Volume I, No. 4, Summer 1974

What Went On Before Us

The following stories and incidents from the turn of the century are excerpts from Herbert A. Jones' manuscript WHAT WENT ON BEFORE US, compiled and edited for BITTERSWEET by Jay Luthy.

[H.A. Jones has discovered the rewarding secret of how to record family history for distribution among relatives and friends. After gleaning over twelve folders full of interesting, historic information from his manuscript I have compiled this. selection of stories for the pleasure of our readers. ]


One of our neighbors had two boys who were the Katzenjammer boys of the neighborhood, always into something. The older boy, A.D. seemed to be the brains of the two for whatever he said to do, Jimmie obeyed to the best of his ability. One day their mother heard Jimmie crying and A.D. yelling at him at the top of his voice. She ran outdoors to see what the trouble was. When putting honey on their toast that morning, the negro cook told them something about honey and how the bees gather it out of flowers, and that people put the bees in hives so they will make it for them. Spying a yellow jacket on a fallen peach, A.D. told Jimmie to catch it and hold it between his hands until he could get a bottle to put it in. Jimmie made the catch, but he immediately began to jump up and down and cry from the stings. A.D. was yelling at him to hold on. "I'll kill you if you turn him loose." Jimmie was still holding when his mother got there. She gave A.D. a spanking for making him hold it, and Jimmie a spanking for having no better sense.

Another day, when the cook went into the kitchen to kindle a fire in the cook stove in preparation for the noon meal, she heard a faint "Meaow" but thought nothing of it, for they had more than one cat around the house. As the fire began to heat up, the "meaows" got more often and louder, but she could see no cat in the room. Finally jerking open the oven door, out it jumped smelling of singeing hair. The boys had been playing with the cat, and had locked it up in the oven as their jail. Other things claimed their attention, so the cat was forgotten.

One winter we had an inch of ice all over the landscape during the Christmas holiday period. We boys quickly made homemade toboggans with a short rope in the front to pull them back up hill. We didn't lack for passengers. As soon as the girls found out what was going on they came to get in on it. The makeshift affairs had no runners, so we guided by what we called sprags, a sharpened stick that we dragged along the side. They worked very well if we didn't get up too much speed. One day we maneuvered Joe Beckham into taking the school's fat girl down hill with him. There were a few trees on the slope we used, but we usually could dodge them. But Joe ran over a protruding root, which threw him off course, and before he could bring his sprag to working, he slammed into a tree, his heavy cargo making it that much worse. The girl came out without a bruise or scratch, but we couldn't say so much for Joe. We felt sorry for him, but not sorry enough to keep from snickering.


Persons living in the business part of our town stacked their wood against the back fence adjacent to the alley. One resident thought his winter's supply of stove wood was going down faster than the family was using it. There must be some way of finding out. He had several days' supply put inside on the screened porch, and placed a strand of black sewing thread lengthwise over the top. Sure enough next morning the thread was out of place, and a number of sticks were missing. Rather than sit up all night to catch whoever was getting it, he drilled holes in two pieces, filled them three-fourths full of gun powder, and drove wooden pegs in the end. With the pegs sawed off even with the wood the alteration was hardly discernible. Rumor around town the next day was that a certain person's cook stove blew up that morning. Nothing was said, but that ended the wood loss.

Up until the time we were twelve or thirteen years old, the girls and boys had little interest in common in their play. Before that the girls always wanted to play hop-scotch, jacks or jump the rope, sissy games like that in which we were not interested; but at this pre-puppy love age there was a mutual interest in our playing, especially where there was a lot of running like base or tag or "Chickema, chickema, craney crow." To the girl a chase around the house by a boy, with maybe a yank or two on the pony tail was a sure indication that she was getting his attention. We had a large yard and often on summer Sunday afternoons, the crowd would gather there.

All at once when it seemed that the playing was going good, some girl would have to take off and hit for the outhouse. Like a flock of sparrows the others followed suit. It was a puzzle to us why they all wanted to go at the same time and crowd into such a place, but girls were mysterious creatures. If we happened to be in the back yard at the time, we would hear a "tee-hee, tee-hee" emanating from that source, while they discussed the playing or whatever girls discuss in a caucus. We would wait and wait. Finally a loud "bam" on the side of the edifice from a sizeable rock thrown from a distance was our signal that the conference was over. A moment of silence, then two eyes would peep out the slightly ajar door, and then a head would show, looking around to see if another rock was on its way. If not, out the girls would all come in a flock like they went in, and the playing was ready to go again.

Just back of my friend's house there lived a fairly successful river bottom farmer, but if the mother and her three or four daughters ever did any work, I never was witness to it. They were all snuff addicts, so much so that the premises smelled like expectorated snuff. The mother and daughters were straight spitters, accurate to within five or six feet away. Snuff is not to be swallowed. The stomach will not tolerate it. Only gradually through the taste buds of the tongue will the body accept it, so the custom of this type of snuff users is to pull forward the lower lip and fill the space between it and the gum with the powder. After the flavor had been fully absorbed, the residue is expelled. One winter day, the mother and daughters were seated in chairs before the fire, aiming their rejected wads at the ashes of the fire. All at once Rufus decided to cross the semicircle at the same time as the mother was ready to expectorate. The missile hit Rufus in an ear and splattered over that side of his face. He raised a big howl, but his mother only remarked, "You'd better stay out from in front of me or you'll get drowned!"


Rufus, the only boy and the youngest of the family, was about my age. Someone had presented him with a male kid some two or three years before as a present. They would play together like a little boy and his pup. Rufus would hug him and wrestle with him until by smell it would be hard to tell which was the goat. His father had ordered for him a factory made goat wagon and harness to match, and he had trained his companion to pull it. With only one in the wagon the goat did very well, but Rufus insisted that we both ride. It being sandy soil, the weight of two in the wagon was just more than the goat could pull. Rufus would yell at him and beat him unmercifully. The animal would hunker down like an elephant and give it all he had, but the load was just too much. Finally in sympathy with it, I would get out of the wagon.


The Taylor family, who lived across the little ravine that ran through the old field back of our home, kept geese that nested in the fence corners and in the brush pile back of their barn lot.

Although geese are strictly monogamous in relation to their mates, they are gregarious otherwise and graze in a herd like sheep. One summer, though, we noticed a gander wandering over the field by himself. We thought it quite strange and asked Mrs. Taylor the reason. She said his mate had died, and he was in mourning for her. That fall he appeared with the chickens at our home. He had taken up with one of our white hens, following her wherever she went. Evidently it was a two way love affair because except at grain feeding time, the two would always be wandering about by themselves. Geese naturally roost on the ground, but probably to please his bride each night he managed to get on the roost with the other chickens.

We fed our chickens whole shelled corn once a day, casting it about on a level place in the back yard. The gander especially liked this part of living at our house, and would gobble up corn faster than half a dozen hens. While a chicken has a sharp bill, and must peck at every grain, the goose has a flat bill and can swoop up corn like a scoop shovel. I first tried to run him off the feed ground by kicking at him, but he would only dodge and keep eating. I then got one of our fishing poles and whacked him across the back to run him away. He would stand just out of the feeding ground and watch. Should I turn my back, he would take another run across the feeding ground scooping up corn as he went. Finally we got tired of having him around and sent word to Mrs. Taylor where he was. She had one of the children pick him up and take him home. He never came back. My guess is that he landed in the Taylor baking oven, for once getting attached to a mate, only confinement or death will keep a gander away. The white hen laid extra large eggs for a short while, but Mama never set them, it being too late in the season.


Once while visiting a neighboring farm when I was about six years old, a local boy told my brothers and me of a buzzard's nest that had been built on a ledge. A buzzard's nest is a rarity; in fact this was the only one I ever knew of then or since. We were all eager to go see it. As we approached the site, we left the path in the valley and climbed the hillside on an easy ascent. Evidently the boy knew his buzzards. We got up to a height, where we could see the two half grown fledgings pulling on the carcass of some small animal. We meant to go no farther, but the two parent birds, who had been watching our approach, apparently decided we had already come too close. With a run along the ledge they took to the air and circled to get above the tree tops just above us. The boy told us we had better get back down hill and to keep an eye on the birds as we went. Soon they began to bomb us with regurgitated carrion. We must have descended with one eye looking up and the other down, for we escaped any direct hits, while the stink bombs splattered on the rocks nearby.

The Ozarks played an important part in one of the natural wonders the white man found on the continent at the time of his coming, the great migration of the passenger pigeon. In early summer the birds came in a long stream from the tropics over my great grandmother's place, going northeast to some location where they fanned out over the woods and fields of the northern states. It is said they lived off acorns, soft shell nuts, and wild rice before the land was put under plow. Afterwards they gleaned the grain fields from Kansas and the Dakotas to New England. They were said not to have beaten down the grain, but rather to have gleaned the fields after harvest, so they were not great nuisance to the farmer.

At a certain time in late fall, they began to congregate, as if under orders, and start their flight south. Aububon reports having viewed a continuous stream on their return, which he computed to have been composed of a billion or more birds. Another observer reported a flock calculated to have been 204 miles long and composed of over two billion birds. Whatever the number, it must have been fantastic, for local observers said they would darken the sky as they flew over.

Beginning about two miles south of Grandmother's farm was a high steep mountain side, known as Pigeon Roost Mountain, the pigeons' rest stop. Each group would spend the night, then move on to be replaced by another until the whole migration had passed over. The pigeons seemed to have no conception of how many their overnight location would accomodate, for according to Uncle Bob who lived as a boy in the neighborhood at the time, they would crowd every limb on the trees, body to body, until the weaker limbs would crash under the weight. They would push and shove and fuss until they finally settled down. Just why they did not spread out to the treees in the valley below, or on the mountain top, no one knew. Their ancestors had evidently selected this site before men were around, and they were not about to change their custom. Uncle Bob said the men and the boys would take lanterns and clubs and kill all they could carry home in a short time. The birds were more in demand on the return trip south than on their northern flight, because they would be fat after returning from the grain fields.

For some unknown reason they disappeared about the year 1870 and never returned. Conservationists will tell you that the continual depredations of men caused their extinction, but this is not so. Uncle Bob said that on their

very last flight, if their number had been reduced even a little, the local people could not tell it. Some have advanced the theory that some epidemic completely wiped them out, but it does not stand to reason that such would have been possible within six months time. Most people who remember them think that on their spring migration coming up the east coast of Mexico, a hurricane caught them and blew them all out to sea.



Coming home from an extended stay I found a brand new Ford automobile parked in front of our house. In spite of their high cost and unreliability, automobiles had been increasing rapidly in popularity in the East for several years; but it was not until Henry Ford began his assembly line manufacturing could the price be reduced until the average man might hope to own one. When the price of the Model T came down to $650, people in the smaller towns began to buy them. Papa was one of the first to buy one in Plumerville though he never learned to drive it himself, saying he was too old and nervous to learn. Perhaps his decision not to drive was influenced by the experience of a somewhat younger physician, who before his purchase, had had a garage built to house it. The car salesman demonstrated how to handle the spark advance and gas throttle and how to use the foot pedals for starting, stopping and reverse. Then he let the doctor take the wheel to get the feel of it. They drove about the streets awhile, until the doctor thought he could handle it. The doctor drove home alone in confidence. Before he had left home, he had opened the garage door wide. As he drove in the doorway, the garage wall came at him faster than he could bring forth his instructions. So in panic, he could only pull back hard on the steering wheel and yell, "Whoa, whoa!" as he took out the back end of the garage.

As for himself, Papa had Steele and Harold taught how to drive, and when I came home, they taught me. By using one of us he was able to use it in his practice as well as for pleasure.

The gasoline station in Plumerville to begin with was a 60 gallon drum set out in front of the store. A removable kerosene hand pump was used to pump the gasoline into a gallon container for measurement. The gasoline was then put into the tank on the car's rear by use of a funnel. It cost all of 10¢ per gallon--no gas tax. At night the drum was not taken inside, only the pump, as no one had a need to steal it.

At that time the tire industry had not developed a resilient rubber tire that could take much abuse, so we had to be careful on side roads not to hit a rock that might cause a blow out and ruin the tire. I would say that the average life of the tires then was not over 5000 miles. Nail punctures were quite frequent, and to repair the inner tube, we had to use a cold patch called "monkey grip" which often came loose if the tire got hot.

The Ford of 1913 and a few years afterwards was hand cranked. It had a crude ignition system regulated by a rotor attached to the end of the drive shaft, which was advanced or retarded as a means of advancing or retarding the spark. This was controlled by a small hand lever attached to the steering wheel. If the spark was advanced too far, the motor was subject to back firing. In this case the crank might fly backwards and break an arm, so you stood spraddle legged while cranking to prevent a whack on the knees, then pressed down cautiously and jerked up rapidly. If this did not start the motor, you had to spin the crank rapidly.

The carburetor was also simple compared to modern day carburetors. If one stalled the motor, it usually flooded. Then the only means of getting the motor started again was either to wait until the surplus gasoline had evaporated, or crank and crank until it had been drawn out by suction.

The acceleration was regulated by a little hand lever on the right side of the steering column. It was not as delicately responsive as the foot accelerators of today and unless one rightfully anticipated the pull on the motor, it would die for lack of fuel, usually causing it to flood.

Papa allowed us to use the car on Sunday afternoons to take our girl friends riding. We would speed up to 25 miles per hour, pull back the top half of the windshield and let the breeze blow in our faces. The boys of the present generation who like to drag race up to 100 miles per hour could not get more of a thrill out of it than we did at 25 miles.


One time Harold stalled the motor right in the middle of a large mud hole. Now who was going to do the cranking? We drew straws to determine, and I got the job. So I pulled off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers and waded into it. After getting the motor started, a rear wheel started slipping, so we were still stuck until I could do some pushing. I waded around to the rear, put my shoulder to the car and began to push behind the wheel that was holding. We started again, but now my wheel started slipping, spraying me with mud from top to bottom. I turned quickly to avoid getting mud in my face and got an equal spraying on the back. Well, we had to get out someway, so this time I got between the rear wheels, and with some hard pushing we made it out. But in the process I ruined my new $5.00 panama hat and was so muddy we had to cut our joy ride short and return the girls home.

The passage of the horse and buggy days into the automotive age brought on many amusing as well as serious incidents. It took the horses a few years to get adjusted. Just seeing a vehicle coming down the road all by itself with no horses pulling it was enough to panic them. You could hitch a team to a stalled car and tow it without causing the least excitement, but let it travel on its own power, and there was trouble until the horses got used to it.

More than a few fights occurred between the owner of a horse drawn vehicle and an automobile driver. Usually if a team began to shy at an approaching car, the car driver would drive to one side and stop until the team got by. It was especially dangerous to turn a corner suddenly and come face to face with a team unexpectedly.

I witnessed one such accident. Someone from Little Rock driving through Plumerville with a little speed turned a corner quickly and panicked a team coming toward him which whirled and started running away. The driver stayed with his wagon until it started to turn over before jumping. The horses got tangled up in their harness, breaking one's leg. The car driver hurried up to the scene of the wreck to see what he could do to help. The wagon driver picked up a broken end of his singletree and beat him up with it.


The driver of the team was the owner of the local livery stable who hated automobiles and vowed he would never own one. But as they increased in number locally, he saw that he was out of step with the time trying to hold on to his taxi service with only horses and buggies, so he bought one. Though pleased with how the car speeded up delivery and taxi service, he was never able personally to grasp what made it tick. He had enough help around his place of business to solve his ordinary problems with it, but when the carburetor got flooded and he had cranked "out his gizzard," it got the best of him as it did with most beginners.

One day while driving a customer he stalled his motor, flooding the carburetor. Wearing himself out trying to get it started, he began to get madder and madder at the machine. Finally he pulled a hammer out of the tool box, lifted the hood and beat the upper part of the motor to pieces.

One day while driving in the river bottom country, my brother Edgar ran out of gasoline. Since he had heard that the Ford motor would run on kerosene when hot, he borrowed a gallon of kerosene from a farmer to drive into town. When he got to town he drained out all the kerosene, he thought, but to be sure, struck a match to look inside the fuel tank. The gas left in the tank exploded, burning his face, singeing off his eyebrows and lashes, and half his scalp. Another physician painted his face with an antiburn solution and bandaged him up. When he walked through the yard gate with his head and face all bandaged, with only his eyes, nose and mouth showing, Madeline spied him and called out, "Oh Edgar! Are you dead?"

The roads into the interior were only wagon roads at first and contained many loose rock, as well as rock indebted in the roadway, so until the county got to dragging them, it was risky to get very far away from town. Most of the back country people had been to town, and had seen automobiles, but there were still a few who had never been that far away from home. They had heard many stories about them and were trying to put all their information or hearsay together.. I had stopped one Sunday afternoon in front of a back country home in order to fix a slow leak in one of my tires. There were a number of boys and men around, and as I removed the outer tire to get at the inner tube, they all plied me with questions. After patching the tube, and putting pressure in it to test my work, one old fellow came up, squeezed the inflated tube between thumb and finger tips and backed off, saying, "Runnin' on air, by gosh!" Another remarked, "I can see how it can go forward, but not backward." Another corrected him, "It stands to reason that anything that goes forward can go backward."

[Forward or backward the Model-T has played an important part in the history of the Ozarks. Our thanks to Mr. Jones for telling us WHAT WENT ON BEFORE US.]Art by Jana Low

Boys will be boys...the 'ole swimmin' hole as H. A. Jones knew it about 1904.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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