Volume 9 , Number 12 , Summer 1988
The article by Wanda Pickett Ehlers in the Spring Quarterly was well done and certainly needed to be made a part of Taney County record.
I knew Uncle Johnny as we all fondly called him. We lived at Kirbyville and John Speer and his wife lived between Kirbyville and the St. James School House. I was fascinated by the picture of the "nugger" and can recall Uncle Johnny visiting our school with the little "pretties" as he called them. I have one that Homer Bookout gave me.
The time frame of which I speak was about 1912. The local merchants saved the nice pine boxes that goods were shipped in during that period for Uncle Johnny. He was an expert with his pocket knife. He whittled out these nuggers or pretties. He was a minister and each little nugger was used to illustrate some Bible history. The one I have has the three little holes as the one shown in the article published in the Quarterly. However, it is rounded on the top. I recall another that had seven notches carved down each side.
Uncle John visited all the local schools, carrying a bleached flour sack containing the nuggers and sticks of peppermint candy. The arrival of Uncle Johnny at the school was always welcome and the teacher would say, "Put away your books."
Uncle Johnny would make a short religious talk. He would hold up the nugger with the holes and say, "Now, children, these represent the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."
Another time he would hold up the one notched on each side with the seven notches and tell us the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh of Egypt. He would explain that the seven notches on one side represented the seven years of plenty and the notches on the opposite side represented the seven years of famine. When he had finished his little sermon, he would give each child a stick of candy and one of the little pretties or nuggers.
The previous article relates that John Speer was a Union soldier. I recall that he lost his pension. The powers that be in the War Department insisted that he had deserted his company during the war. My grandfather was also a Union soldier veteran and a lawyer. He investigated the matter fully and learned the facts.
John Speer was a young soldier and his sergeant was cruel to him. Finally, the cruelty went beyond the endurance of this young soldier and he gave the sergeant a severe beating with his calvary bridle. To avoid court martial, he left and joined another regiment and fought through the war as a loyal soldier.
Grandfather was able to prove all this by affidavits. The pension (only $12 per month) was restored and the name of John Speer cleared. The day his first check came to the Kirbyville Post Office, Uncle Johnny looked at it carefully and said, "Well, now Sarah and me can have a little piece of beef."
Several years ago, my wife and I taped a long conversation with Phoebe Siler (nee Snapp). At that time she was 91 years old. She was the daughter of Robert Snapp. She was asked if she could recall the names of some of her teachers and she named six or seven. Then she was asked who the ministers were in the Kirbyville country. She recalled Captain James Vanzant, Frank Baldwin and John Wesley Speer.
When she mentioned John Speer, she said, Us young folks always like to go to church when Uncle Johnny preached for he always hopped about when he preached."
The article in the Spring Quarterly stated that his grave was unmarked. There was some doubt expressed as to the actual location. If there is someone who can locate his grave site, I shall make every effort to get a soldier marker and see that it is put at his grave. Elmo Ingenthron and I were able to get a marker for Capt. Nat Kinneys grave. He is buried in the Forsyth Cemetery just across Swan from old Forsyth.
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