WANTON DESTRUCTION OF A MILL AND ITS CONTENTS
By S. C. Turnbo
It is strange how some men when given a free hand will destroy property. The great Civil War proved what many men would do if they had a chance. Hundreds of men cared for nothing during that bloody strife only to rob, steal, burn and kill. But all the men were not of that disposition and opposed the destruction of property only what was really necessary and according to the rules of war. They aid not believe in killing anybody in an irregular way. Some men are born honest and they want to live honest. Others are born scoundrels and their desire is to carry out that principal. Some of the men on both sides in Civil War times were full of wanton meanness while others had a heart of mercy. A brief story of the early days in southern Missouri and a sad experience in war times is given here to show the hardships the honest class of people had to meet and pass through in those dark days. On the 10 of June, 1906, I had an interview with Mr. Aaron Frederic at his home on the head of Coweta Creek, Creek Nation, Indian Territory. Mr. Frederic said that he was a son of Hezzikiah and Susan (Brymer) Frederic and was born In Marion County, Tennessee, in the early 50s. His parents lived in Tennessee until in 1858 when they set about making preparations to move into Missouri and went there in a stout ox wagon drawn by a trusty yoke of cattle. On arriving in Howell County they stopped on Jacks Fork of Spring River where they purchased a small water mill which was near 25 miles northwest of West Plains. Mr. Frederic says that he was quite young when his father and mother owned this mill but he remembers a few names of the settlers on Jacks Fork. Among them were Ambrose Smith, Rube Harlow, old man Goodman and a man of the name of Padget. The man Harlow owned a little mill on Jacks Fork. This mill was three miles below our mill. We lived here two years or until 1860 when my father sold out and went 10 miles down the creek and settled on land at a fine spring of water that flowed out of the ground at the foot of a mountain. This spring is on a small branch that runs into Jackie Fork. Here at this noble spring of water my father built a good mill for that period. This mill was operated by a big overshot wheel. If I mistake not this was over the line in Oregon County or near the division line between this and Howell County. We ground corn and wheat both on this mill. Our patrons brought their grain on oxcarts, ox wagons, horseback, or afoot. Some of them lived many miles away. We had a bolting chest with the bolting cloth fixed on the inside of the chest. The cloth was run by a crank to separate the flour from the bran. I had the chest in charge and my father kept me busy nearly everyday and a good part of the night turning the crank of this bolting apparatus and I got awful tired of the business.
When we first went to this spring our nearest neighbor was John Smith who lived 4 miles from us. The next nearest family was that of Jack Thomas who lived 5 miles away. Our next nearest neighbor was Billy Goldsberry, a Baptist preacher who lived more than 6 miles from us. Thomas and Goldsberry were sportsmen in the hunting line and generally hunted together. They both kept a pack of hounds and chased deer, bear and panther with them. We lived at this place until sometime after the war had broke out and ground grain for both sides until the early part of the 3rd year of the war when the bandits destroyed it by fire, which was done in the following manner. One day 30 men come dashing down the hill to the mill house and dismounted and while some of the men held the horses others went into the mill house and carried out the meal and flour and the wheat and corn that they found in there. This stuff belonged to us and the women and children of the neighborhood. As the men would carry it out they would throw it down in the mud in front of the mill house. When they had carried out all the sacks some of which had meal and flour in them, others corn and wheat, the men took their knives from their pockets and ripped all the sacks open except one man and he used his bayonet to tear one sack open. After they did this they picked up what was left of the sacks and shook the contents into the mud in one pile then led up their horses to this mixed pile of corn, wheat, flour and meal and let them eat of it and stamp and tramp the remainder into the mud.
My poor mother begged and pleaded with the stony hearted men to leave some of the meal or flour for the use of herself and children. She was crying and her cheeks were wet with tears but It did no good. The men cursed and abused her. Some of the most unmerciful ones told her to go to hell where she could get meal and flour and would have no trouble in getting it cooked for hell was hot enough to bake bread at anytime. This was serious to have to take from ruffians but we had it to bear. Mother and we children were helpless. Starvation was staring us In the face, for these wicked men determined that they would leave nothing for our comfort or support. Soon after all the grain, meal and flour was trampled into the mud by the horses feet, part of the men went back upstairs in the mill house while the others lead the horses off a short distance and guarded them. The men up stairs began to apply matches to the roof which was made of pine board and were easy to ignite and after they had set fire to the roof in several places they all come back downstairs and went out to where the other men and horses were to await the destruction of the building. In a few minutes the entire mill was wrapped in flames and soon went down in smoke and ashes. It seemed that my mothers heart would break while the sheet of flames were leaping high above the burning building. I well remember that just before they set the mill on fire one of the men raised the water gate and let the water on the big wheel and said that he would finish grinding and close up the mill and the patrons of this mill could go somewhere else to have their grist ground. The wheel went on with its revolutions until the frameworks of the house give way and the wheel was wrenched from its resting place and rolled several yards down the bed of the branch before it fell over.
Springfield-Greene County Library