Vol. VII, No. 2, Fall 1993 / Winter 1994

Old Times Along The Buffalo-Springfield Road

by Marilyn K. Smith

Marilyn Smith is a writer living in northeast Greene County, Missouri.

In "The First Marked Auto Route? The Ozark Trails," author E P. Rose states, "From the dawn of creation men and wild animals found it necessary to search for the vital requirements of life in places often far remote from their habitations. Thus paths and trails, which in later years became roads, were established. When the railroads came, the wagon roads then converged to the nearest towns along their lines, and the days of the long trips by wagon to market passed into history."

But what a colorful history it is. A few years ago, my husband and I purchased a piece of land and built a house located in an old community called Elm Spring, about a mile and a half north of Fellows Lake, central Greene County, Missouri. The spring for which this little area got its name is located to the west of our house.

A three-sided, worm-eaten rock and concrete wall surrounds the mouth of the spring; the wall is also a monument, with the following inscription: "First used by settlers in 1830. The first church on the hill 150 yards east was built by the M E Church in 1850. The cemetery south of the church first used in 1861 and contains the remains of many early settlers and soldiers. Of War of 1812 and the Civil War. Take a drink of this pure water as a libation to the memory of those hardy pioneers."

Almost from the instant we moved there, I began hearing stories about the area. My husband's mother told that her mother, Margaret (White) Davis, grew up near March, Missouri. When Margaret was a little girl, she and her father would travel over the old road, which ran in front of the spring, so her dad could take his apples to market in Springfield. They would leave their farm in March in the southern panhandle of Dallas County and travel most of the day. They would reach the spring about dark, and she would stay with a family who lived nearby. Her dad would sleep under the wagon, to make sure no one would steal his apples. They would get an early start the next morning, to reach Springfield in time to sell the apples. Then they would travel back towards home, reaching the spring by nightfall the second night. Again, Margaret slept in the house, and her dad slept out by the spring.

They would head back home early that next morning. A round trip from March to Springfield took three days.

When my great aunt Wilma heard we had purchased land at Elm Spring, she said that before my grandparents Belva Bryant and Casper Thomas were married, she went with them, to Springfield, to buy Belva's wedding clothes. They traveled the old route past Elm Spring. She called it the Old Buffalo-to-Springfield Road. They rode in an open top buggy and it started to rain. They had to stop at the Old Appleby Place, north of Springfield, until the rain let up.

Wilma also told that, when her husband George Graham was 13 years old, it was his job to walk the family cow from their farm in Republic to their new farm in Fair Grove. It was a very hot September day in 1909 when George and the cow got to Elm Spring about two in the afternoon. They stopped for a rest and a cool drink. "He still can remember how good that water tasted after the long hot walk he and that cow had," Wilma said. George's father had made arrangements for George to stay the first night at the Whitlock's, not too far from the Old Appleby Place. The next afternoon was when he arrived at the spring.

Fair Grove Square, 1920.


John Doe Tracy told about his dad hauling a bureau or chest of drawers home from Springfield, and they set up camp for the night at Elm Spring. As they were eating their supper, they heard lots of gunfire from the battle being fought during the Civil War. They decided it might not be too safe to stay the night there and that they had better head on home.

Harvey Boegel, a former neighbor, said he and his father, John, hauled wheat to Springfield by team and wagon, which took all day. Harvey said when they would go past the spring after dark, a ghost would come out and take hold of their horse's reins and lead them down the road. He said people thought if they could run their teams fast enough past the spring, they could outrun the ghost, but it didn't help. The ghost appeared anyway.

While I was relating some of the stories connected with this area to Blanche Carter Mason, she said her mother was raised by her grandparents along the Elm Spring route. Her mother told how the farmers would drive their herds of sheep and goats to market in Springfield. The farmers selected this route because of the water at the spring. Mason said her mother would laugh and tell about the goats walking the rail fences in front of her grandparent's house.

The house I was raised in, northeast of Fair Grove, was located on the same route my aunt called the Old Springfield-to- Buffalo Road. My father had always referred to it as the Old Buffalo Road. That road the main cross-country route running north out of Springfield. It was and is variously named the Old Wagon Road, the Old Buffalo Road, the Buffalo-to-Spring-field Road, the Springfield Road, the Lake-to-the Gulf Highway, the Ozark Trail, and Highway 65.

According to Lawrence Holt of Buffalo, the Springfield Road, or Lake-to-the Gulf Highway, came in from Warsaw to the north of Buffalo. The Ozark Trail came from the east. Those two roads ran along using the same route at times, and completely different routes other times. They followed the same route south of Buffalo, about two miles. Then the Ozark Trail route went west and didn't cross Greasy Creek. Known later as the Ridge Road or the High Road, it went through Foose.

Osward Hankins, of Fair Grove, said the road that connected Springfield and Fair Grove was known as the OT or Ozark Trail. It was also known as the Buffalo Road. This road had two branches leading into Fair Grove from Buffalo. The trails converged on the north edge of Fair Grove. Each branch had its advantages. The west route had a bridge that crossed the Pomme de Terre River just below the present day U.S. 65 bridges. The eastern route was easier to take because it wasn't as muddy. The only disadvantage on the eastern route was crossing the river at Potter's Ford.

The following story was told on Lee Skidmore, who lived in the Potter's Ford area, when that road was gravel. He would sit back and wait for a traveler driving one of those new-fangled Ford Model T's, and offer to pull them across that gravel ford for 50 cents. Then if they refused and tried to cross on their own and got stuck, he charged a dollar for pulling them out. And to make sure they got stuck, he would take his old plow and plow up that gravel.

On the Snider farm southwest of Fair Grove, 1900.


Ashby Goss was also credited with making his living pulling cars across the river at Potter's Ford. Goss kept a team of horses hooked to a Springfield Wagon at all times. If a car got stuck, Goss would charge one dollar to pull it across.

Clifford McMillian of Fair Grove told about seeing the last wagon train that passed over that old road. He was around six years old (1904). He remembers seeing five or six wagons with cows tied behind. They were coming from Buffalo, going south. His mother went down to visit with the ladies. She gathered in some produce, such as potatoes, to give to them.

Charlie and John Doe Tracy were raised just south a short distance from Potter's Ford. When they were seventeen or eighteen years old, they raised and sold watermelons. They would go down on a weekend and sell their homegrown watermelons to the people who were camping on the river, and to the fishermen. There used to be a real good place, just below the ford to the south, to camp and fish.

Mrs. Charlie Tracy said she could also remember the covered wagons coming through, taking the people from place to place. The abundance of water made it a good stopping place for their horses and cattle. It was a favorite route for the Gypsies to travel too.

Lawrence Holt said travelers back years ago didn't worry where a road went. If it became too difficult to drive over, they changed the route. If there was a mud hole they couldn't get across, and there wasn't a fence or other obstacle in the way, they simply moved over and continued on their way.

Holt told a story about a fellow by the name of Helton who used to haul freight and owned a hardware store in Buffalo. During Helton's time, the old road went south out of Buffalo for about two miles, then went west, and back south to a mud hole. Another man, Charlie Walker, lived nearby. Walker was a good fellow, the type people wanted as a neighbor. One night about eleven o'clock, Helton tried to cross that muddy spot, and got stuck. He walked to the Walker farm and knocked on their door. Walker got out of bed, got dressed and went to the barn to get his tractor. He proceeded to pull Helton out of his predicament. The next night, the same thing happened. The third night, the same thing. Walker pulled the fellow's vehicle out of the mud, then told him, "You know those mud holes are there, and you know you will get stuck if you try to cross them, so I'm telling you now--I won't pull you out again!"

The Old Buffalo to Springfield Road crossed Greasy Creek twice, once about four miles south of Buffalo, and again at present Missouri 38. There was a little community called Greasy where Highway 38 crosses Greasy Creek. It had a mill and a post office. Some of the mill stones were found there when the present bridge was built.

During heavy rains, Greasy Creek would get up and people would sometimes get caught on the road between the two crossings. Holt's dad told about the day he went to Springfield to pick a fellow up who helped them on the farm. While they were traveling along that road, it came a hard rain. They made it past the first Greasy Creek crossing just fine, but when they came to the one nearest Buffalo, they didn't dare attempt it. They had to spend the night in the car. The fellow his dad had picked up in Springfield had spent the evening in a bar, and hadn't taken a bath. His dad had one of those old Model A coupes, and according to Holt, a person would feel pretty closed in in one of those cars. The windows had to be kept closed, too, because of the rain, so one can imagine what a night they must have had.

Holt told about a turkey roost located somewhere between Buffalo and Springfield. The turkey farmers would drive their turkeys to market--on foot, and they tried to get to that certain spot to stop for the night. The turkeys would fly up in the trees and roost, and the owners of the turkeys waited until they flew down the next morning, to continue on their journey. Holt has no idea where the turkey roost is, but he has heard people talk about it.

Looking backward, I am amazed at the amount of commerce that the Buffalo-Springfield Road carried.

Fair Grove school bus, 1930's. Clyde Yandell, owner of the Fair Grove Materials Company (background), designed and built the bus bodies.


Ozark Trail Garage (U.S. 65) in Fair Grove, c. 1930. Note highway marker at left of photo.

The Fair Grove newspaper, like most local newspapers, carried stock market reports for its area. In a December 9, 1909, issue of the Fair Grove Times, one of the articles stated:

Yesterday was turkey day and today is not much better. Turkeys are brought in by the wagon loads from far and near. Yesterday Wingo and Jones took in 408 turkeys, paying for the bunch $868.65. One would hardly think there were so many turkeys in the country, but then Fair Grove draws from a large territory. The price paid yesterday was 15 cents per pound, but there is quite a little flurry in the local Board of Trade today.

A week later the same newspaper reported, "A drove of 600 turkeys went along the Jefferson Road yesterday. Ten drivers were in charge taking the birds to Springfield from Gold, Polk County."

The Fair Grove newspaper also proudly invited "a comparison with the neighboring markets", believing that Fair Grove pays as much or more for farm products than her competitors, and offers advice for better marketing:

Turkeys 15-16 cents, geese 5 cents, ducks 7 1/2 cents, chicken 9-10 cents, rabbits 5 cents, butter 20-22 cents, eggs 25 cents, Irish potatoes 75 cents, sweet potatoes 90 cents to $1.00, dressed pork 10 cents, dressed beef 11 cents, feathers 50 cents, "Crystal" flour per cwt. $3.10, "Beauty" flour per cwt. $2.90, meal 90 cents a bushel, bran $1.30 a bushel, shorts $1.60 a bushel, chops $1.70 a bushel, corn (not buying), wheat $1.10 a bushel.

The wool crop is coming in. Local dealers are taking the bulk of it, the present price being 21 cents for good clean wool, prices on dirty and burry wool lower. It pays the producers to market only clean wool as but a very few burs subject the product to lower rates. Not only did the farmers drive their turkeys down those old roads, they used them for their cattle, horses, hogs, and anything else that needed to go to market. Wayne Andrews' parents and grandparents lived near the Little Pomme de Terre River, west of Fair Grove. He said sometimes the owners of the cattle would turn them in on his dad's place for the night, so they could eat and drink water from his creek. The owners would hire Wayne and his brothers to help get them to market. He was the youngest, and it was his job to run ahead, across fields and fences, and get to the next person's lane, to keep the livestock from going where they weren't supposed to. The first drive he helped with, he got paid $10. He thought he was rich. That was the first ten dollars he ever earned. It took all day, from six in the morning to six in the evening. They drove them all the way to Greenlawn Cemetery. Then he and his brothers were allowed to go back home.

Cyrus Potter, who lives south of Buffalo on the Old Buffalo Road, told about two brothers who drove a herd of cattle along that rough and muddy stretch of road. One of the brothers lived near Buffalo and one lived east of High Street in Springfield. On their long journey to market in Springfield, they stopped at the DeHaven Place, close to Hickory Barren, where there was a good spring. "Can you imagine doing that now," Potter asked?

Burley Jones lives on the route described earlier as the High Road or Ridge Road. It had a long steel bridge spanning the Pomme de Terre Riven He re members a fellow who hauled freight for the many stores located all along that road. He and the men who worked for him drove dray wagons, loaded full of all sorts of things. It took three horses per wagon. They would travel over that old road to Springfield and it would take four days, round trip. They would camp along the river's edge.


Jones remembers the first trip he ever made to Springfield. He was twelve years old. He went with his Grandpa Highfill. Hauling a load of baled hay to Springfield, they left home at 4:00 in the morning and camped at the river's edge the first night. Then they drove on into Springfield the next day. When they got to Smith Hill, which is a quarter of a mile long, the load shifted on them. Jones' grandpa was a little fella and not very strong, and Jones was just a young boy. They had to reload the hay on that hill. "It was no easy task," Jones added. Smith Hill, or Clay Hill as it is also known, was pretty treacherous. It gave a lot of people trouble. They sold their hay and spent the second night near the livery located where Hiland Dairy is now, on the corner of Kearney and National. They headed back to Fair Grove and camped on the river the third night. It took them four hard days to go to Springfield and get back home.

Roy Huff, of Fair Grove, said his dad would take two wagons of wheat along that old road through Hickory Barren to market in Springfield. The price was higher than in Fair Grove. They would have to "double team" at the long hills.

Osward Hankins remembers hauling hogs and wheat on his father's wagon along the Ozark Trail in 1923. They took the hogs to the Welsh Packing Company to be butchered. Welsh Packing was located near the junction of present day Chestnut Expressway and Trafficway. He said they took their grain to the mill located on the corner of Broadway and Commercial. "The trip from their home in Fair Grove to Springfield would take about five hours," he said. Road conditions would change the length of time, but five hours was the average. His family owned a car in 1915, but horses were still required because cars couldn't transport a significant amount of farm produce.

During that time, there were very few cars and trucks, mostly wagon teams. Doc Goodwin, who lived just south of Fair Grove, hauled freight from Springfield to Fair Grove with a wagon and team. Later he bought some old Maxwell trucks. Those old trucks had solid rubber tires and were chain driven. They didn't have any doors, just a top and windshield. They weren't big, by today's standards, but for that day, they were great big. The people living nearby could hear them coming for miles. They would grind over those hills at five miles an hour, until they got up over the grade, then they would gain a little speed.

The First Marked Auto Route? The Ozark Trails, reports, "The advent of the automobile found a conglomeration of rough, crooked roads, over which it was very difficult to operate those early old 'gaschariots', as old-timers well recall. Besides, if anyone wanted to make a little journey somewhere, he did not know how to get there, there were no road markers. I recall, back about 1905, a banker making the statement that the automobile would never be a success because the roads were so rough and crooked that a car could not be driven fast enough to use it in high gear."

Burl Huff said he could remember when Burt Murrell and Almos Triplet owned the O. T. Garage, in Fair Grove. They had a Model T dealership and they would take orders and recruit fellows from around Fair Grove to go to Detroit to pick up the new cars. He could remember those new cars being driven by his old home place. It was really a sight to see.

I believe him. I believe all the stories I've heard about old times on the Buffalo-Springfield road. And sometimes I think I can see them too.

Fair Grove Creamery, ca. 1911.


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