Volume VI, No. 2, Winter 1978



Edited by Patsy Watts, Photos by Vickie Massey

... but it's hard to imagine one person who has done as much as Iva Bradshaw. From her childhood escapades to the arduous struggling of a widow trying to raise a family on her own, Iva reflects, "Oh, I've just had one thing after another happen tome all my life." As she shares the tales of her life, love and leisure it's impossible to remain indifferent to her obvious fulfillment and satisfaction with the years behind her.

I was born in Dallas County, Missouri, in 1888. I lived on a farm practically all my life. I was the third child in my family. My dad's first wife--my mother--died when I was two years old. In about a year Dad married her sister, which made a new home for us.

When I was six years old my granddad moved into the house with us. I can remember the day he moved was the happiest day that ever come to me in my life. I always thought my granddad was something to talk about. He was mother and grandmother and father and everything else to us kids in raising us up and seeing after us. It was a mixed-up family of thirteen, three different sets of kids. Of course, we wasn't always home at the same time. But when we were at home we all worked together to help make a living. Everyone that was big enough had to go to the field and work. While I was so small that I couldn't get out and do work, there was babies in the house and I'd stay and watch them. I remember one time my mother left me there to take care of the babies and fix the beds. She didn't get her beds made for they was planting corn. They used to have big feather beds, you know. I got the feather bed off on the floor and thought I'd do a good job with it. I made it nice, but it was so heavy and I was so small, I never could get the bed back on the bedstead, and it was laying in the floor when the family came home for dinner.

But as I got older, I started going to the fields. When I was nine and Henry, my oldest brother, was eight, Dad bought us a jenny. There was seven acres in the little place that we lived on and Dad rented ground around other places to make the main crop. That jenny was for me and my brother to tend that seven acres around home. We did. We tended it. We took our double shovel and plowed that seven acres and raised a right nice little batch of corn out of it, too. Yeah, truck patches and such things. When Dad'd hook his team up, we would, too. Why, I could hook them up just as good as anybody. We had some mules. They was just three years old and they was kind of mean I was harnessing up the jack strop one day and a mule kicked me on the leg. Oh, I thought I was ruined! But I got him and he never tried it anymore. We just kept plowing every year till I was thirteen.


Us kids used to play lots. We'd get into some mighty big things. We'd go up on the hillside, throw down some rocks and they'd get to rolling. We'd take big steel wagon wheels and they'd go for a quarter mile when we'd get through with them. I'd make my own dolls. I'd have to get maybe a corn cob or something like that and stick arms and legs in it and fix them up.

We played cat and mouse. We'd get in a ring and hold hands. There'd be one inside and that was the mouse. The cat would be on the outside of the ring and he'd run around and go between the arms of two of us and we'd try to catch him.

We'd make playhouses and build up on the hillside. I'd like to go up and see if I can't find the place where we'd take rocks and build up walls. In the summertime we lived where they was a creek and they was a big flat gravel bar where we'd build a little log house just about two by six--we'd build us a chimney and a fireplace and everything. We'd go to the field and get corn and stand it up in front of the fireplace and we'd bake that corn. Dad always had his meat in the smokehouse and we'd go up there and get meat, too. Lots of times we'd eat our dinner down there on that gravel bar. Mother wouldn't call us to home 'cause she'd know we was there cooking and eating ourselves.

Mother learnt us how to tie a hang knot. They used to hang people and she could tie a hang knot. Us kids made a plan to hang Rob--that was my brother. So we took him to an old barn where there was rafters and led him up on the scaffold. We sung the song mother learnt us--the song that they sung when they hung these fellers. It said, "My name is Charlie Gitall, My name I'll never deny. For the murder of James A. Garfield, I'll meet my scaffold on high." Well, us kids had him up there with the hoodwinks on and the rope around his neck. But when we got to singing that Song, we got to crying. That's what saved his life because we'd a-broke his neck just as sure as we'd a-pulled that rope.

I remember one time we heared an awful noise down in the potato patch. I was the leader, so I said, "Now you little ones stay back and I'll go see what it is." It made the awfullest noise. I got down there and it was a snake a-swallowing a frog. Oh, he was making the peculiarest noise ever, and I hollered and told the kids that it was just a snake, not something that'd hurt us 'cause we could kill it with rocks.

I never was scared of snakes. I tried to kill every one that I'd see and I've killed a lot of them. I've lived places where they was real bad snakes. I remember one time we went to the graveyard to see a grave and coming back they was a copperhead snake going across the road. Well, it was just before it got dark and they'll shine, just like brass, and the kids got out to kill it, but they didn't kill it, and I just got out and picked up a rock and throwed it and knocked its head square off its shoulders.

I've said a lot about what we did, but we wasn't always working or playing at home. We went to school. We didn't go but three or four months a year. That was the longest term we'd have. Sometimes we'd take two months in the fall and then two more months in the spring. When it got too cold, we'd stay at home. I started school when I was six years old. I always loved school. I got my second grade through fourth grade. We'd have to walk about four miles up a hill and down a hill till I was about eleven, then we only had to walk about two.

They used to play baseball at school and I usually was about the champion. Oh, yes, I could play ball. Another game we played was whip cracker. We'd all gather up and go around and they'd pop the whip. One of us would maybe go clear across the house before we'd ever get to stop. Of course, we never went to other schools like they do now to play school games.


I got married when I was just a kid. I lacked from the 26th of March to the 4th day of April being seventeen years old. My husband was Arthur Berry. I lived with him nine years and we had four children. Then we separated. A little over a year later I married again and had one child--a girl. In 1915 the year of the big flood, we had 100 acres of corn and every stalk washed down but eight. We sold out then and went to Oklahoma and worked in the oil fields. We were down there just a year until my husband took typhoid fever and died. I had to bring him back to Missouri. It was eighteen degrees below zero. My dad, one of my brothers, and I went thirty-two miles to the cemetery and come back in an open buggy. We had a big wagon sheet spread over us. We kept warm enough, I guess. It was about ten o'clock when we got home that night and we started early that morning. It was quite a trip with just a team. If it was now we'd freeze to death but we made it all right. After the funeral I stayed at my Dad's for two weeks, then I took the children and went back to Oklahoma.

In March my oldest boy got a chance for smallpox and Dad wrote to me and said, "You better come home because you can't take care of all of them if they all get down on you at once." So I rented out my house and came home. The children all had the smallpox and so did I. I was quarantined with them for thirty-five days. I didn't think I ever had a friend in the world or ever would have. Oh, that was a time! I remember one night there was three or four of them just a-crying and hurting so bad. It was raining and the house was leaking, and, of course, I didn't feel too good. I was up a-trying to get things straightened around so that the children wouldn't get wet--putting vessels down to catch the water. There isn't very much you can do about smallpox except suffer them out. And I said, "Well, I wouldn't give a dime for any doctor to cure me." I just wanted to get out of it, but we all made it.

Then a year after that I got married again to Port Bryant, and we had two kids born to us, two boys. One of them is my son John who lives here. My third man was on the jury and he stayed away at court a week. When he came home he took the measles. He died and that left me with the two little boys--one just a little over a year old and one a little over three years old. After he died--we had our crop and my oldest boy that was home was thirteen and the other was nine.

Then I had to take my horses myself and go out in the field, but I did. I'd always plowed at home when I was a girl. So I said I could make it. I had a sister that lived close to me. She said, "Sis, what are you going to do with all these children here? How are you going to raise them and make a living for them?" I said, "Well, I'm going to make a living for them and they're going to eat."

We ever'one worked. All the kids were big enough to work but the two little boys and my daughter was big enough to take care of the little kids so that I could work. My oldest boy could do a lot of plowing. Then the other boys would come in and help me out with the plow. I tended seventeen acres of farm in one year beside the truck patches. I know what it is to work, but I don't mind working. I enjoyed it.

I remember one time I'd worked all morning putting a beam in a double shovel plow. I'd broke it out. I'd worked all morning to get it fixed up, so that evening me and my oldest son was going to hook up and go out and plow corn. We got out there and the horse got scared and run away. All that was left of the double shovel was the new beam that I'd just put in it. And it was split. Half of it was in the ground and half was laying on top. So there was my work all morning for nothing.

Then once the horses started to run off with us before we was in the wagon. We'd plowed with them all day and we thought they was so tired that they wouldn't try to run off, but the dog reared up in front of them when we got to the gate and they just wheeled and run. Lester said, "Mom, jump!" So I just jumped out of the wagon and broke my foot. There I was with a broke foot and a crop, so I had to lay low then for awhile. But it soon healed up. Oh, I just had one thing after another like that to happen to me all my life.

Now I've used all machinery to work in the field with but a wheat binder. I've cut hay. I've cut grass with the cradle and bound it. I had about three acres of good oats and couldn't get nobody to cut them. Ever'body was so busy you couldn't hardly find anyone for a good job, so I just went down and bound them myself with my girl to help me. She stayed with me and she could bind the same as I could. John was eight years old, but he kept the plow, too, same as she would. On the days I'd have to wash, one would drive the horse, the other'd hold the plow.

"And then we had World War flu and there's where I lost one of my little boys."


I've had three houses to burn in my life. Our first house that burned, I don't know how it ever got a-fire. We wasn't at home when it got burned. The second house that burnt was Ed Bradshaw's. I married him. We lived together six years. He went to build a fire with kerosene and set the house a-fire, and it burnt him so bad that he lived eleven days and died.

After he died, me and John and his wife bought this house. Or anyway he bought it and I lived in it. I stayed with them about ten years. Then I went back home and stayed at my old home place just over the hill. That was the third house that burnt down. The flue burned out. It was just ready to fall in when I happened to see it. I was washing the dishes by the window. There was snow on the ground and the water was a-melting and coming off and it was red water. I said, "Where's that red water coming from? I guess it's just melting around the flue and is red,"

And it seemed my fancy made me go and look anyway, so I just went to the stairway and opened the door, and oh, it was just a-popping and a-cracking upstairs where it had got a-fire from the flue upstairs. I called to John and said, "John, get over here as quick as you can. My house is a-fire." It all went down, anyway. That was three years ago.

I don't do very much now. I have pieced no telling how many quilts. I bet I've made 500 quilts in my life. When my house burnt I had forty-five quilts that I was a-making for my kids and grandkids. It was about the only thing I had of entertaining myself after I got the crop gathered and brought in. Before the boys got grown they helped me get in my stuff. As they got grown, maybe they'd be married, but they'd come in and give me a day's work. We'd work it all in. We got by.

I was also a midwife. I've had lots of experience delivering children. I expect I've delivered 200 children in my life. I've delivered two still babies and two sets of twins. Sometimes I got paid. Sometimes I didn't. I'd just charge two dollars. They oughtn't have minded to pay me money, but they didn't always. I'd take whatever they gave. I've took secondhand sheet iron for delivering a baby. Yeah. I made them happy, anyway.

One winter there was a shower of babies. I was over at my dad's when my sister was having a baby and the doctor come and he said to me 'cause I was handy with sick folks, anyway. "Well," he said, "it looks to me like some of you women is going to have to help me out with so many of these babies here this spring." I said, "Well, I'll do my best." And he said, I'll see you through it if you'll take over." So I just began. I kept a-getting better and I had more nearly than I could do. Busy all the time.


I went down here to Phillipsburg to a place to deliver a baby. It was snowing and cold and the only way we could see was to get out and warm a toe sack on the manifold and melt off a space in the windshield. It took us quite a little while to get down there. The snow was about eight inches deep. They lived right in the timber where there wasn't no roads or anything. When we got there, the baby had already been born, so we had to turn right around and go back the same way we came. I was pretty near all night riding through that snow and timber.

I had to do my own doctoring for my children. I doctored them with pills, black draught--lots of black draught. That's where you use turpentine, kerosene and skunk grease. I never paid out very much for doctor bills with my kids for I could doctor them very well myself. If they had a cold, I'd just grease a wool cloth and put on their chest. One of my sons came in one night and he said, "Mom, I'm just a-choking to death with a cold." So I got up then and made me a poultice with the skunk grease, quinine, coal oil and turpentine, and the next morning his whole chest was blistered. I hadn't put in enough grease to keep it from blistering, but quick as that blister came off, it healed up. It was just the first layer of skin. He done all right.

Skunk grease is pretty good medicine all right. I believe there's just a lot of remedies like that that beats the medicine they have today. In fact, we didn't have the money to pay out very much doctor bills--couldn't afford to have a doctor if I could take care of them. If course, if it got bad enough, we got the doctor.

I've doctored animals, too. I've cured three horses of fistula. I used bark off a tree for wire cut. You just take the rough bark off and get that inside bark next to the tree, shave it off and put it in a big kettle and boil it to make an ooze out of it. I'd put kerosene and turpentine and salt and things in that and kept bathing his foot in it until it got all right.

I didn't ever have discipline problems with my family. Never had a child to be arrested or never had to go to the law or get them out of trouble or do anything in the world as far as the law is concerned about one of my kids, because I kept them busy when they was small kids and they kind of took up with it pretty good. Idle hands is what causes bad children, don't you think? After they got up big enough where they could work, I kept them at it till they was grown. After they was grown, they'd heared me correct them so much that they sure thought it was the truth. So they stayed with it and I've never had a bit of trouble. They've always been awful good children. They've helped me out in every way that they could, and I've helped them out every way I could, so I've not been amiss.

My best advice to you is to keep on with your work. Today a person can't hardly blame the children--a lot of them--because their parents don't put them out to do the work. They don't have to. They can hire it done with the prices they are getting for their work until the children don't have to do that. And of course, if a child don't have to work--if you don't teach him to--he don't know very much about it. You got to make him get into it. A lot of them are lazy and they'll never get up to do very much. If they know how, it wouldn't be no handicap to them if they ever had to do the work. If my dad hadn't learned me to work, I'd have starved my children to death, because I wouldn't have known how to take over and make a living as a widow woman. I was always good and stout, you know. I never hated to do anything. It didn't make any difference if it was my job, if it fell in my lot, I just took it over and done it, because somebody had to do it. And I said the good Lord took care of us in a lot of places and when kids are kids, why, they're took care of. Yeah! I think that if the good Lord didn't take care of us, they'd be a lot of us lost a way early in life. And here as it is, I'm getting now just about ninety years old--will be in April. And, oh, I don't know, I could just go on and go on.

Iva Bradshaw died on May 2, 1978, at the age of ninety. Though we were able to talk with her only once, her vitality was a great inspiration and we were saddened deeply by her death.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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