Volume 7, Number 3, Spring 1980
(Correction: Thomas Foster Layton died July 20, 1899)
The Foster/Layton story began in Spotsylvania Co., Va. Thomas Foster who had belonged to the nobility of Scotland and England and was a direct descendent of the English Dudleys who owned large estates and shiplines that ran to several countries. He was a neighbor of George Washington and served in the Fourth Virginia Regiment of Foot during the Revolutionary War. His wife was Susannah Mitchell from Aberdeen, Scotland and their families were of equal prominence. Susannah s sister, who had gone to live with an aunt in Scotland, told her folks there was enough wealth in the family over there to buy the entire state of Virginia. Certainly it was apparent in the Mitchells life style for John Mitchells home was built of old stock wear, bricks, nails and glass imported from Scotland and graced with cut glass and sterling. He was a proud and haughty Tory aristocrat down to his solid silver knee buckles.
The Horace Layton family was also from England and, like the Fosters and Mitchells were descendants of the Cavaliers, members of the court of Charles I of England. They had developed a profitable freight business in the same Virginia county. Part of the route passed through the Manassas area, scene of two Confederate victories, the Battles of Bull Run and also where the Civil War Battle of the Wilderness was later fought. At the time it passed the home of John and Susannah Foster and their seven children. Thus it was that Horaces son, John, met and on December 27, 1810, married Susannah (Sukey) Foster and his brother Charles, married her sister, Sarah on August 4, 1813.
After Horace died in 1841, the two couples and several of the Layton brothers and sisters immigrated to Greene County, Mo., among them Thomas and Julia Ann and their little daughter, Sarah Elizabeth who was to grow up to marry first, her cousin, Leonidus Layton and then, Walter Hopper. They brought with them a touch of Southern elegance and a way of life quite the opposite of the Northern pioneers for the Laytons as well as the Fosters brought along their slaves. They were in Greene County through most of the Civil War, fighting gallantly for the Confederate cause while Sterling Price occupied the City of Springfield. It was Col. John A. Foster, brother of Julia Ann who raised the first Confederate flag there and died of gangrene, the results of a minnie ball wound in the leg received at the Battle of Wilsons Creek.
The elder Foster, Robert Dudley, remained loyal to Virginia. He had fought in the War of 1812 with the Virginia Militia at the age of 19 and his six sons, five son-in-laws and four grandsons were all on the side of the South. Quintus Richards reported that his mother, Cordelia Foster Richards, told him of the Missouri branch inviting Grandfather Foster to visit with the idea of moving here. He came in 1868 and stayed but briefly. The trip had been hard and he was ill as a result. Returning home, he told his wife, "Bettsy, I would not live there if they gave me the entire state." He died in Virginia on August 6, 1868. His widow did move to Missouri, living with her children and enjoying the pension she received through the latter part of her 98 years.
Some of the family came to Taney County during the war years, including Thomas Foster Layton and Julia Ann. Cordelia and her husband Rufus Richards, lived on the Layton property (the men being in service). She and Julia Ann ran the Union blockade at Forsyth on several occasions, bringing badly needed supplies from Springfield for the Confederate Army to the South. She stuffed dolls with quinine for "the gallant Missouri soldiers of the Malaria Brigade" and bought salt and soda also. She had horseshoe iron cut in shoe lengths and tied the strips in bundles of straw and hid them under more layers in the wagon. Both very nearly fell into the hands of the German mercenaries who fought with the Union Army. Halted at Forsyth by the Captain in charge, they were advised of the imminent arrival of the foreign soldiers. "I have a wife, mother, sister and daughter," the captain told them, "and I would not allow them to proceed tonight for Im expecting a large number to start coming in and I cannot say what might happen to you."
He went on to tell them he would have a tent put near his quarters for them and two guards to protect them and insisted they have supper with him. The meal, they said, was a good one but they could not sleep for worrying about what might happen should the soldiers examine their wagon. They left camp as early as possible the next day and met many of the foreign troops between the encampment and home, reporting their contacts were "simply awful" but that they were not molested. It might have been different, they conceded, if ironically they hadnt befriended or been befriended by and indebted to the enemy they were in the act of betraying.
The Richards home was often visited by the Alf Bolin gang and sometimes by Bolin alone. The huge cave on the land is alleged to have been their hideout. The story of the outlaws death has been written by many historians and the details vary little. However, most do not mention that the killing of this infamous monster took place in Cordeilas home and that she was the lady involved.
The family version is that government officials were trying to capture Bolin to end the continuous cycle of robbery and murder by his gang along the heavily traveled road between South Missouri and Arkansas, also a Union supply route. Whether they believed there was sympathy for the outlaws or realized there was little that could be done but tolerate the visits if they hoped to live, remains unclear.
But in any event, the officers managed to arrest Rufus and to insure Cordelias cooperation, told her when they had Bolin in custody, they would release her husband. They then sent a soldier, disguised as a Southerner trying to make his way back home and pretending to be too ill to travel. When Bolin next came to her home, Cordelia told this story to him and after satisfying himself that the man was what he seemed, Bolin accepted it. Mealtime came and she served the food, following which Bolin filled his pipe and turned to the fireplace for a light. The rest is history. The soldier quickly struck him with a poker, knocking him unconscious. Then he started to hitch up a wagon to take him to Forsyth but when Bolin began to gain consciousness, the soldier shot and killed him. Then he dashed to Forsyth to bring a Union Captain and squad who severed the head and took the body to Forsyth where they buried it in a large cracker box in an unmarked grave. The head went to Ozark where it was impaled on a pole in the square, a message of relief to travelers and a warning to those who might entertain thoughts of continuing Bolins practices. Finally, they packed up the Richards belongings and moved them back to Springfield lest the gang try to seek revenge.
John F. Layton, son of Charles and Sarah, was but fourteen at the time the family left Virginia. Eleven years later he married Elizabeth Jarrett of Knoxville, Tenn. who was also of Scotch descent. He, too, homesteaded on land near Cedar Springs close to his brother, Thomas F. Layton. The period was tense and the area still primitive but the couple coped with the situation quite as well as Thomas and Julia Ann. Elizabeth refused to be intimidated by the roving bands of bushwhackers and guerillas or the wildness of the region. The story is told of a stalking panther, squalling threateningly near the cabin where she and her slave woman were alone. Elizabeths companion was terrified but with staunch courage, the Rebel Lady refused to leave and threw her feather bed into the fireplace to create a diversion, knowing the odor and fierce smoke would drive him away. Then, having proved her point, she sat down and calmly smoked her pipe.
John and Elizabeth raised a family of ten children, instilling in them the virtues of honesty and thrift, manners and decorum and never did they lose sight of the fact that they were Laytons -- and Southern. And while some eventually married to the North of the Mason/Dixon Line, it was a situation the family frowned on and the in-law never quite forgiven for his or her ancestry. One Yankee member relates the story of an incident in which a relative was arrested in Illinois on a charge of horse stealing. His lawyer was a young man named Abe Lincoln who proved the charge to be false and unfounded. When the story was told, cousin Sacramento Belle echoed the family sentiment by saying, "Better to have hung for horse stealing than to have had Abe Lincoln for a lawyer!"
Whatever the viewpoint, the descendants and inter-marriage relationships of the Layton family run into astronomical figures. Their individual stories are vividly interesting, adding considerable material to the volumes of American history and the pride in their heritage is as strong in this year as when they first set foot on American soil.
John F. Layton died in 1880 and was buried on his property, in a field near the road by The School of the Ozarks, Next to him lies his son-in-law, Edward Reese, a German immigrant. About ten years later, his widow sold the place to Mr. Vinton of Kirbyville and the family moved to Caddo County, Okla. Elizabeth kept a restaurant in Union City for many years and died September 1, 1917 at the age of 79. She is buried at Pocassett in Grady County, Okla.
The couples second son, Wm. David (Dink) Layton was born in 1857 at Springfield and grew up in the Cedar Springs community of Taney County.
By now, conditions had improved to the extent that bears and panthers were not as prevalent, although wolves roamed freely and destructively through the countryside. However, the economic situation had worsened and the law enforcement was a complete farce. Taney County was noted for its lawlessness and was the favored rendezvous of bushwhackers and guerrillas who followed in the wake of the Civil War. Murder went unchallenged and a life could be snuffed out easily and with little or no justification. There was no protection from and no punishment for crime. In rebellion, the Baldknobbers Organization was formed here and in other parts of this area and members took matters into their own hands. Right or wrong, it was the beginning of a new way of life. No doubt each side had its stand and its story and, as a historian Elmo Ingenthron stated, the truth lay somewhere in between. This was the framework in which William David Layton began his career.
He became a farmer/stockman, raising mostly sheep and, as did most local residents of that time, worked at whatever odd jobs were available to supplement his income. Although hard times had developed, he held to the family tradition of honor and always gave a good days work to his employer. One of these was his uncle, Thomas Foster Layton who now owned considerable property. For him, William hauled corn from the land that was later to become the YMCA Camp in Hollister and also worked at the Pinery. He is known to have split 100 rails a day during the period he worked for Dr. Storms with whom the family attended church at Gobblers Knob and prayer meetings in the homes of neighbors. It is noted that he "loved little children, people and had faith in God." Interestingly, and perhaps prophetically, he met Fronea Kathryn Whorton at the Layton mansion and the fine old Foster/Layton and Bollinger/Whorton lines were merged when they married.
Meanwhile, life continued its ever-changing pattern at the mansion. Most of the children had gone. Cornelius had been wounded in the Battle of Hartville in January of 1863 and died the following day. Julia Ellen had married John J. Jeffries and moved to Carrollton, Ark. Thomas Allen became involved in politics and was in the County Courthouse at Forsyth for many years. Laura Marshall had married Jasper Newton Stephens, a Christian minister of the Kirbyville area and Alice Monroe, after having taught school in old Warnersville (Kirbyville) married Andrew Jackson Stephens. Louisianna remained a spinster and Ona Mae married Conred Kiesiech. Sacramento Belle, always unpredictable, married attorney Henry Glitsch of Hesse Dornstadt, Germany, in a civil service, the bride and groom both on horseback. Claude Wesley had married in October of 1890 and he and his wife were there taking care of the place when Thomas Layton died of a heart attack on the portico of the mansion.
She was also from an old pioneer family, being the daughter of Paralee Hopper and Washington McCormick. Washs sister Prudie, married the distinguished Gillum Hopper, thus the children of these couples were double cousins. Lula McCormick and Nannie Belle Hopper were prominent in early Hollister history -- Nannie Belle as the wife of Professor J. W. Blankinship and Lula as the mistress of the Layton mansion.
Information for this article was obtained from family records and personal interviews with the Layton family. Permission for its use is gratefully acknowledged.
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