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Local History

Pioneer Life of 1833, Part 1

 Written Over 50 Years ago by John H. Miller of the Greene County pioneer Miller family.  Published in  the  Springfield Farm Club News January 5, 1933, pages 1 and 8.

"The settlers in those days were driven by necessity to use their inventive wits.  Doors were made of clap-boards, floors of mother earth, bedsteads with one leg were fastened to the walls in the corner of the houses and wagon grease was made of honey, which was only twenty five cents a gallon, or about one cent a pound in the comb.  When they were able to afford good puncheon floors and two bedsteads it seemed like civilization.

“"In those days neighbors were few and far between but everybody was friendly and willing to divide the last mouthful.  The first grist of corn was ground on a little wing dam that old John Marshall had on James [River], near the mouth of Findley [River], although Jerry Pearson had a little rattle trap of a mill some nearer but it was hardly competent to grind for his own use.

"It has been often discussed but never explained exactly how Greene County attracted such a splendid upright class of pioneer citizens.  Other communities had more or less trouble with undesirables and yet the criminal record of Greene County in early days was remarkably clear.  In fact, Captain John Lawson Holland said, 'The old log jail was located on the east side of Boonville Street.  For about twenty years I don’t think there was a man put into it.  We had no use for a jail.  It was an old double log jail; however, there was one man named Shanks who was placed in there for murder and he cut out of jail, escaped and never was apprehended.

"The cause of our small criminal record was the early determination of the pioneer settlers to purify the community and make it a desirable place in which to live.  As new settlers arrived they were carefully watched and if serious objections were found some of the older men would go to them quietly and tell them to move on as there was plenty of other territory to be had.  By that method the [loose?] characters were eliminated without arrests, fines or imprisonment and probably no one ever knew of the warnings except the parties themselves.

"Judge John Yount Fulbright told of an old man who lived in the west part of the county, familiarly known as Uncle Davy Reynolds.  When he came to town Uncle Davy always spent the night at the Fulbright home.  On one occasion, Uncle Davy told of the working of this plan to eliminate worthless characters.  A man moved in and settled near the Reynold’s place.  He had four horses to feed and Uncle Davy soon found out that they were not buying enough corn to feed the four horses.  The county was sparsely settled and Reynolds knew every man who had corn to sell.

"Corn was missed from the Reynolds crib.  Uncle Davy inserted a slip of paper in several ears of corn, with his name on the paper.  More corn was missed and Reynolds visited the newcomer and while there walked out to the lot and on examining the cobs found several with his name on them.  He suggested to the man that it was a strange incident.  The man was confused and could not explain.  Uncle Davy mildly suggested that the best way out was for him to move on.  The next morning the newcomer was gone.

"Then too a neighbor of Mr. Reynolds kept missing his meat and suspected a man who lived nearby in a cabin with stick and mud chimney and bare loose stones for hearth stones.  He walked over and seated himself by the fire with the family and soon noticed that one of the stones had been moved recently.  He suggested that he saw signs of wood rats bothering them and raised the stone.  There was his ham of meat.  Another family moved on west without delay.

"In this way the objectionable element was eliminated.  Judge Fulbright told of a conversation he had with Captain Baker Owen in which Owen stated that he too had resorted to these measures often to rid his own neighborhood of floaters and that the custom was frequently resorted to by the older and better settlers in the early days.

"The officers of the law, in 1833, had more latitude in their duties and often got results that could not otherwise be had.  However, in the murder case of Jake Sigler, a posse under Sheriff John D. Shannon found two men who frankly acknowledged they knew were the murderer was at the time.  The posse, in an effort to make them tell, tied the two men to a black jack tree and whipped them very severely.  The man did not tell and later brought suit against the sheriff.  The suits were finally compromised and the matter dropped.

"Greene county has always been noted for manufactured products.  The Springfield wagons were known far and wide.  Old Coon tobacco was shipped all over the country.  Saddles and leather goods were shipped to several states.  In early days, John Lair had a blacksmith and wagon shop on the northwest corner of Jefferson and St. Louis St., where Montgomery Ward & Co., are now located.  He ran from four to eight forges and made and replaced plows and wagons.  He later made stocks and used leather belting so he could shoe 100 mules a day if the driver was in a hurry.  Lair’s ‘Prairie Breaker’ plow was known all over this part of Missouri and required from four to six yoke of oxen to pull it through the tough roots of the prairie sod.

"Wilson Hackney had a hat shop a little ways north of the corner of South [Avenue] and Walnut [Street].  He made hats that lasted so long that sometimes the owners got tired of them.  A citizen brought in an old hat one day and asked Hackney to make one just like it.  After looking it over carefully, Hackney returned it , with the remarked ’All it needs is cleaning and ironing; I can’t make a hat any better than that one is.’

"William McAdams saddlery and harness shop worked several journeymen and apprentices hard and steadily from 10 to 15 hours a day.  All overtime was paid for and there was no discontent.

"Presley Beal had a cabinet shop at the northwest corner of College [Street] and Patton [Avenue] where furniture was so well made that articles such as bureaus are still in use.  Thomas Jessup had a tan yard on [the] northwest corner of Mill and Boonville, where most of the leather used here was prepared.  Further north on the opposite side of the street was Captain A. M. Julian’s carding machine, operated by a tread wheel upon which walked an old ox.  Captain Julian was grandfather of Mayor Harry D. Durst.  Jake Painter was a genial old gentleman who had a gunsmith shop in the northeast corner of the square where Reps Dry Goods Co., is now located.  He made and repaired rifles and ‘Jake’s Best’ a single barrel pistol was a necessity to all who crossed the plains.  The hammer was on the underside of the barrel.  Many of these pistols were taken to California and New Mexico."

This article will be continued next week.

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