Vol. VIII, No. 2, 1995

My Life Story

by Thelma Keithley Bilyeu

Tales From My Early Childhood

I feel as though I have lived in two worlds, there have been so many changes in my life. I was born to Elmer Keithley and Mabel Cupp Keithley on December 10, 1915. I was their first baby and they loved me then and to the end. I was born in a rude log cabin in Clausen Hollow, Taney County, Missouri. The chinking was poor and the cracks let in the winter air. But they built the fire hot and wrapped me in many quilts and blankets until they almost smothered me to death.

The house consisted of one big room and when I first remember there was a side room attached. Later the side room was in such bad repair it was tom down leaving the floor as a porch. So we lived, slept, cooked and ate in the same room. It was not ceiled but mother kept it clean and nice, covering the ceiling and walls with building paper. Sometimes the paper would get tom and money would be scarce so Mother would paper the wails with newspapers.

I was brought into the world by experienced Granny Women. My Grandma Cupp was counted to be one of the best but my mother felt it was not quite proper to have her deliver a grandchild (although she had already delivered many grandchildren). So Mother asked a neighbor, Mrs. Lum Davis, to attend. How ever, when she was in labor, my dad decided that Grandmother Cupp should be there so he slipped away and went on horseback to bring my grandmother. The two Granny ladies were quite compatible so the birth took place uneventfully. In addition, my grandmother Keithley lived just across the field and she too was soon on hand to see everything was done right. I was her first grandchild and she planned to see that everything was done that should be done. She later told me that if it had not been for her they would have had me smothered to death more than once.

The house sat in a nice little peaceful valley on the very edge of the woods. In warm weather an abundance of all kinds of wild flowers covered the hill sides. A big branch which was almost a creek flowed nearby. We had no well so in cool weather we carried all our water from the branch. In warm weather our drinking water was carried from a small spring. In summer we would swim in the branch and fish for homy heads. The branch emptied into Bull Creek about a half mile from our house.

Pleasant Shade school. A church gathering, ca. 1905. Grandmother belle Keithley, left with bonnet. Thelma's father Elmer at her left.
My parents raised most of our food. They had nice gardens of onions, lettuce, green beans, cabbage, and lots of potatoes. Daddy always raised corn. White corn was saved for making cornmeal and the yellow corn and nubbins were saved for chickens, cows, and horses. Jim Estep, the local miller, ground the corn into meal. The night before going to mill, Dad would bring a wash tub full of nice ears of white corn into the living room and we would all gather round and shell the corn in preparation for going to the mill. The shelling was hard on your hands, especially little hands. You could make a blister if you didn't watch out. It felt so good to run your hot hands through the corn that was already shelled.


We had food from the forest also. Squirrels that were young and could be fried were a special treat. The old ones were boiled and dumplings made in the soup.

There were lots of fish in the creek and daddy was a good fisherman. Folks came down from up off the ridges to get Dad to catch them a mess of fish. No matter how badly the corn needed plowing, Dad would unhitch the horses and go with them. In the spring of the year fish called red horse would come up the creek. Daddy would take some "grabs," which were several fish hooks put together, and climb up a tree limb out over the water. Mom and I and whoever was there would throw rocks and drive the fish up the creek past Dad's stand and he would jerk the line and grab several fish as they passed. He didn't bait the hooks, he just grabbed the fish with them. Then we would drive the fish back down the creek and he would catch some more. These fish were pretty boney, but you could slice them crosswise in several places and when they were fried in hot grease the bones would just crumble.

When the creek was warm he would fish with gigs and bow and spikes.1 When the creek was muddy we would fish with bait and catch trout, catfish, and perch. We also fished after night.

One of our favorite pastimes in search for food was bee hunting. We would put out some bait of water and sugar or any other sweet stuff and when the bees found it we would watch until the bees came and then we would course them to the bee trees. We could also find the bees around water or on flowers. When we had found the tree we usually went the same day, armed with saws, axes, mosquito bar or other such to cover the face, old rags to set on fire to help from bee stings. When the tree fell we could hardly wait to get a taste of the golden honey. We didn't have too much sweet things and so the honey was very special. If the tree was not cut for a while they would put a mark on it with an ax. They would either cut their initial on it or cut a big "X." This was to show other bee hunters the tree had already been found. Most people would honor the mark and leave it for the owner.

I will never forget going bee hunting with my grandfather, J.W.A. Keithley, when I was very small. Guess who found the tree, I did. I can still remember how my grandfather laughed. It was many years later before I realized that he had already found the tree.

We had black walnuts and butternuts and a few small hickory nuts which we loved to eat. However, it was not for many years that we harvested them properly. We just let them lay out in the weather and when we wanted nuts we would go to the tree and crack them where they had fallen on the ground.

In the spring we had wild greens to eat. I never liked them much but my folks really liked them. What I really liked was wild strawberries. Mother could make the best short cake ever.

Everyone raised hogs. It was free range and the hogs would make their way from [i.e., live off of] the land. Their main food was acorns. We had no way of keeping the meat until cold weather. We had no electricity at that time or other means of refrigeration. Before time for hog killing, the ones to be killed were brought in and fed corn, shorts, mixed with slop and milk to fatten them out. Some of them would be sold to provide needed money.

When the weather was right the fattened hogs were killed. Preparation for the killing and cleaning was an exciting time. A big fire would be built outside and water was heated and poured into a barrel to scald the hog. It would be put in the barrel and turned round and round until the hair would slip. Then they pulled them out and put them on boards and the hair removed by scraping. After the outside was clean, they would hang them up on a limb and proceed to remove the entrails. When all the insides were out they would throw buckets of water inside to wash away the leavings. Then they would cut the hams, shoulders, and other cuts. Old timers seldom made pork chops but would cut out the tenderloin instead. When cooked that is the best meat I ever tasted. We couldn't wait until everything was finished but would cut off pieces and put them on sticks and roast them over the fire. Finally the meat would be salted down. The big pieces would be hung up and the sides and small pieces would be salted down. Some folks had smoke houses to keep the meat in and some of the meat was even smoked with wood chips. Fat would be trimmed from the meat and rendered for lard. What was left on the entrails would be stripped off and used to make lye soap. The head was cleaned and cooked to make head cheese or souse; we mainly called it souse. Very little was wasted. Daddy would clean the bladder and blow it up and we would use it for a balloon or volleyball. It was tough and would make a toy for a long time.


The farm we lived on did not belong to Daddy, but we never had to pay any rent. It was small and was only big enough for our own needs. There was no produce to sell. We had a few cows that ran out on the range and there would be a few calves to sell. Daddy would sometimes work for people who had bigger farms putting up hay and wheat and make a little extra money that way. He would help with molasses making and get molasses for pay.

In hunting season he would hunt and trap and sell the hides for extra money. Sometimes he would sell to local buyers but sometimes he would mail them to fur companies. I remember one time when he mailed them. When his check came back it was quite a bit less than he expected. He wanted me to write the company a nasty letter but I refused. He finally wrote it himself. He really got them told. He told them they had just "cornswaggled him out of his money."

Aunt Glessie and Uncle Hugh Melton and cousin Pauline lived nearby. Dad and Uncle Hugh had two dogs. They were a mixed breed; no big ancestors, just dogs. They were good to bark if something strange came up. Our dog was named Dash and theirs was named Tom. Dad and Uncle Hugh would hunt the dogs at night. Mom and I and Aunt Glessie and Pauline would be visiting at each others houses. Along in the night we would feel a need for some refreshments. Many times we would pop a dishpan of popcorn. Our biggest treat, however, was roasting meat in the hearth of the old box heating stove. Mom would cut big slices of ham and we would roast them on sticks or long handled forks. It was so delicious. There is nothing you can buy from the supermarkets that could compare with it. Without television, record player, or tapes and also without telephone, I am happy to say I had no trouble finding things to do. We lived on the very edge of the'.woods and in season I spent many hours gathering wild flowers. My mother wanted to know where I was at all times so she tied a small cow bell around my dog, Dash's, neck. She knew he would always be with me, playing with me and protecting me. When she could hear the bell, she would know my location and how far away I had wandered.

Another favorite past time was making play houses. I had many big flat rocks to build on. I baked mud pies and cakes and had many vegetables prepared from leaves and such. Since we had no little boy to tear down my house, it remained safe for a long time. Sometimes I made my house on the ground and made the boundaries for the house and the various rooms with rocks. There were plenty of rocks to work with. The floors were carpeted with beautiful moss. To this day when we drive through the woods and see the pretty moss, I get an urge to make a play house. The furniture was made from rocks and the kitchen dishes were pieces of broken glass. My house was filled with imaginary people who had permanent names and remained my friends and playmates for many years.

I had real friends to play with too. My cousin, Pauline, lived just across the hill on the Haseltine Ranch. My Uncle Charley and Aunt Hazel lived just across the field and we had wonderful times playing together. I never said "uncle" or "aunt" as they were too near my age.

We played dare base and Charley, being the oldest, could hardly ever be caught. We would try to catch him from every side but when he got ready to run he would say, "Now give me wagons of room to start with" and when he got started he would lead us on a wild chase and usually get back to his base safely.

We would also play we were horses. We would take cans or rocks in our hands to represent horse shoes. Sometimes we would ride stick horses and make some wonderful imaginary journeys. If a little chicken died we would have a funeral and bury it. There were so many ways to entertain ourselves.

Our family had no cars. The neighbors had none either. But one thing Grandpa Keithley had was a shining new hack. We loved to play in the hack and go on many nice trips in our play-likes. I remember one time, when Johnny and Martha Blansit and family came for a visit. We girls were playing in the hack taking marvelous journeys and talking up a storm. Meanwhile Charley and Lester slipped up behind and eavesdropped on us. Then they laughed and made fun of us. We were so embarrassed. We would pretend we were some of the adults. No telling what: roles we were playing as they listened to us.

The home of Red and Pansy Blansit was a place I loved to play. They lived just across Bull Creek from us in a crude log house. Later they built a nice big house a little way down the road. One day when Mother and I were visiting them in the log house, a big black snake crawled up above the window. No men were preserved and we were all frantic. Willie Bilyeu came by on horse. Mother ran and stopped him and he came in to help. Pansy wanted him to shoot it, but he said no, it would break the window. He pulled it out by the tail and cracked its head off. He was a hero.


The Blansit children were the main attraction for me. I was older than their children so I was the boss. That was a position I loved. The children I played with were Emestine, Imogene, Earldean, and Arlene, also a baby, Bobby Lee. Later they had Bessie Lou, Joan, C.C., Betty Jane, and Phyllis. I do hope I haven't missed anyone.

Pansy was a really good cook and there was always plenty of food. She always had fresh baked light bread. At that time, Mother didn't bake that kind of bread. Later in life she did bake nice bread, cinnamon rolls, and such. They baked their bread from everlasting yeast and always kept a starter for the next batch.

Emestine was a real little hostess. She would cut big slices of bread and cover them with homemade jelly. I can almost taste it yet.

Another family I spent lots of time with was the Elbert and Cass Glover family. They lived up the creek north of us. Fay was the oldest and was grown up so I didn't spend much time with him. Elma was next and was quite a bit older than I was but she was so nice to me. She would play with me down on my level and when she got old enough to date, she would sometimes take me along. There were two younger boys, Lawrence and Charley. Charley was my age and we were very close playmates and remain close friends to this day.

The Glovers were hard-working people and always grew many things. Elbert always made lots of molasses. It was fun to sop the pan when he took off a batch. Sometimes it would be after night. He raised the first cotton I ever saw growing, and he grew broom corn too. When the outside work was done, he would sit by the fireplace and make brooms. The brooms he made beat any you could buy and they would just last and last. He raised peanuts and would always have a supply of roasted peanuts for us to eat. He also made his own peanut butter. Cass made lots of quilts. She made some for me when I was first married.

We children loved to play in the sand bar on the banks of Bull Creek. We would build beautiful castles. One favorite play was to build graveyards. We would make a grave for each relative and friend who had passed away. We would use stones for markers and decorate them with wild flowers. I have precious memories of our play time together. There were lots of snakes on the Haseltine Ranch where Uncle Hugh, Aunt Glessie and Pauline lived. Many were copperheads. One morning Aunt Glessie woke up to find a copperhead on the shelf of a stand table. Years later, we lived at that place and found a copperhead on a shelf in the kitchen area. As children we were taught early to beware of snakes. Being a year older than Pauline, I learned that worms would not bite. When Daddy would dig worms for fish bait, I would pick them up and put them in a can for him. For some time Pauline was afraid to pick up a worm. Then one day she announced she was no longer afraid of worms. We took a hoe and started to overturn rocks in search of a worm so she could prove it. I was turning over rocks when all at once she screamed "copperhead." I didn't believe her so she took the hoe and lifted the rock so I could see. Sure enough, there was a small snake. We took off in a run for the house to tell our parents. Our report was that there was a little wild young copperhead under a rock. They went and looked but either we could not find the right rock, or the snake had moved on. Our folks got a big kick out of calling it a "wild" copperhead as if some copperheads were tame.

Pauline and I had many good times together, but as children, well, we also had a few good fights. One time, for no good reason, she hit me on the head with a toy shovel leaving me with a permanent scar. On another occasion we decided to have some fun out of the cat. We tied papers on her feet and threw her out a pane in the window where the glass was out. We had fun watching her try to walk with the papers on her feet. Pauline stuck her head out the pane and I stuck my head out above hers. We got excited over the cat and got our heads side by side. When we got ready to pull in our heads, they would not come through. I thought it was her fault and she thought it was my fault so we got into a nasty fight right there in the window. Mom and Aunt Glessie heard the commotion and came to our rescue. There was a tack in the window frame and I came out with a wounded ear.

Anderson Ford of Bull Creek, Mouth of Dry Hollow.


One day my playmates began to move away. Aunt Glessie, Uncle Hugh, and Pauline moved to Rockaway Beach. Oh, how I missed them. Now when every family has a car or two it seems no distance to Rockaway Beach, but it was a long way on foot or horseback.2 But even though we couldn't be together every day, we visited often. I thought Rockaway Beach was the grandest place. I had never seen so much water. The lakes [Taneycomo] with pretty boats on them were a wonderful sight. And there were lots of stores with many, many things to buy. One delicacy was ice cream. Before Rockaway, I had only had it at picnics. And at night they had beautiful music played by bands. I had never seen round dancing before. Uncle Hugh had a good job and there was money to spend. My fondest dream was to live at Rockaway Beach. Several years later my dream came true. It was just as great as I had anticipated. Then another disappointment--Grandpa and Grandma Keithley moved to Oak Ridge, taking Charley, Hazel, and the rest of the family with them. This meant lonely days for me. They were not as far away as Rockaway Beach, but to a preschooler it was a long way. I well remember the first time we visited them. We went in a wagon and the road was rough and rocky. I thought we would never get there. It was so great to see them all and play resumed immediately.

Oak Ridge was on higher ground than I had been used to, and the wind blew constantly. It was certainly different from Bull Creek, but I liked it. Grandpa and Grandma put out a big tomato patch. There was a factory at Reno where the tomatoes were processed and sold. That was one way farmers made money. Also the factory hired several women to peel the tomatoes and hired men to scald the tomatoes and do other heavy work. I remember one year, Mother and I stayed several weeks with the grandparents so Mom could work at the factory. Aunt Glessie and Pauline stayed too. Grandma took care of us children while our mothers and the older girls worked at the factory. One day as a special treat, they dressed us girls up and let us go with them to the factory. It was really fun for us.

George Stewart had a store nearby which meant we could have some candy and a few other treats. But of course, there is always something to take the joy out of life. Some of the other workers had brought their children and some of the boys were bent on mischief. I guess they thought we were a little much dressed up so they pelted us with ripe tomatoes and took the wind out of our sails. I was so sad to have my pretty dress dirtied up. I think Kern Stewart threw the tomato that hit me.

Some of the boys got into a fight and the mothers had to stop work and break it up. Grant and Brace Davis were two of the boys involved. Their mother, Gracie Davis, was a kind, soft spoken person. I remember the words she said to the boys, "I didn't think my boys would fight." I think those words hurt them worse than if she had whipped them. They sure hung their heads in shame.

That reminds me of another canning factory trip. Before Uncle Hugh, Aunt Glessie, and Pauline moved to Rockaway Beach, they, Dad, Mom, and I took a batching outfit and moved to the Mease Canning Factory near Reeds Spring in order to make some money for the winter. We lived together in an old shack in sight of the factory. Aunt Glessie and Mom peeled tomatoes. Dad helped scald the tomatoes and I have forgotten what Uncle Hugh did. They would send the scalded tomatoes around on a carrier. The women would take off a bucket to peel. They each had two buckets. One to put the peelings in and one for the peeled tomatoes. Each woman had her buckets marked. When the bucket was full they set it on the carrier and sent it to be emptied. A chip would be put in the bucket for the peeled tomatoes and returned. A chip was worth about five cents. They put the chip in their apron pocket and started another bucket. I imagine it took about ten minutes to peel a bucket of tomatoes.

The children just played around while everyone was at work. Sometimes the Mease children would take us back in a storage room and make us belts, hats, etc., from the labels used to label the canned tomatoes with. It was great fun, but sometimes the parents would come through the room and get on to the children for wasting the labels. I remember there were twins named Don and Kelly. There was also a smaller child named Jimmy. His dad had a truck and was always hauling something and Jimmy rode with him lots of the time. If his dad started without him, Mother Liz would yell, "Now you take Jimmy with you."

Just across a little branch Newt Holt had a little store with some of the necessities the workers would need. He also had candy and chewing gum for the children. If we played nice and didn't cause much trouble, our mothers would give us a chip and we could buy goodies with it. The storekeeper would accept the chip as money. The peelers would save up their chips and every once and a while, they would cash them in for money.


Sometimes we would all walk about one and a half miles to the town of Reeds Spring so the folks could buy things that Newt Holt's store did not handle. Just before we got into town, we had to go under an overpass that the train went over. This was my first experience with a train. I was afraid the train would fall off the track and hit us.

Our stay there was quite an experience for two little girls. We enjoyed it but were happy to get back home to our good old dogs, Dash and Tom. But it seems there is always something to spoil a happy ending. Aunt Glessie and Pauline had become infected with head lice. Aunt Glessie had pretty long hair and for days, Mom would comb her hair with a fine toothed comb. Pauline's hair was very thick and it took a lot of combing for her too. All told, it was a rough job getting rid of them. I had lots of uncles on both sides of the family and I loved them all very much? I remember when my Uncle Burl had to go into the service in World War I. We were all so worried for him. I was only about three years old, but I still remember many incidents. He was in camp but the war was over before he ever had to cross the waters and be in the actual fighting. We were so glad for that. It meant very much to us when the war was over. When my grandfather heard guns booming and heard the war was over, he grabbed his own gun and started shooting too.

It was quite some time before all the boys got back home. We had no word of when Uncle Burl would be home. My mother certainly must have had some ESP. She dreamed the exact date Uncle Burl would be home. One day his suitcase arrived. The family wanted to look inside to see if there was any word of his homecoming. They tried to pick the lock but could not. They didn't want to damage it so they gave up. Everyone said the suitcase was the end of mother's dream, but she would not give up. When the date of her dream arrived we went across the field that evening to see if her dream would come true. We waited until long after dark and nothing happened. Dad said we might as well go home. He stepped outside and hollered real loud. Mother said, "Let's stay a little longer, he just might have heard you holler." It wasn't too long until we heard a step on the porch. It was Uncle Burl and sure enough he had heard Dad holler. I will never forget how grandma screamed and jumped over feet and chairs to get to him. It was a happy reunion and a happy ending to Mother's dream.

After Grandpa and Grandma moved to Oak Ridge, Uncle Burl married a nice girl, Pearl Cook, and moved into the house my grandparents left. I loved to visit their home. Aunt Pearl had gone to Kansas City and worked awhile so she had some money to buy some things to start their housekeeping. The thing that thrilled me most was a console Victrola. I am not sure I had ever seen a Victrola before and certainly not one that nice. She had some nice records which I enjoyed very much. I always had a love for music. Grandma had an organ and the men folks had some fiddles, but no one else in the family had a record player.

After they had lived together for a while they had a darling baby boy. They named him Roscoe after one of Burl and Dad's uncles who had passed away young. I thought this baby was the grandest thing in the world. He is still very special to me. Of all the things in the world that I could ever have wished for, it was a baby brother. I was denied that pleasure but I sure had a good time enjoying Roscoe. They told on me that if he was asleep when I came, I would run out and slam the door so he would wake up. I never could quite buy that. Do you believe I could be that mean?

Old Time Picnics

Picnics were the main entertainment for young and old alike. They were held out in the open. There would be a plank dancing platform and there was lots of music, dancing, stomping, and clapping. Stands were rudely built from which to sell their wares. Some sold ice cream, lemonade, hot dogs, hamburgers, candy and such things that you didn't have much of at home. Watermelons and oranges were special treats also. Each stand would have someone advertising their wares. I remember one man, Frank Nash, would have some interesting calls. He would sing out "Right this way and get your long green watermelons. Goody, goody all the way through and half of the way back." Another call said, "Right this way and get your ice cold lemonade. Made in the shade and stirred with a spade." There were various small toys and knickknacks to choose from. Balloons and fancy walking sticks were tops on my choices. There were horse shoe pitching, tow sack races, relay races, and regular races. There was the bail throw where you could win dolls, teddy bears, and other prizes if you could throw straight enough. Oh, the old picnics were really fun. They began around the 4th of July and each community center staged one as their turn came until about the last of September.


One of the first ones I can remember was in Taneyville. Dad saddled Ole Bill and Uncle Burl saddled Queen. It was about fifteen miles from where we lived. Mother took along extra clothes for me as she knew from experience that I would be a mess by noon. I rode in front on a pillow. Part of the time I rode with Mother and part of the time with Uncle Burl. It was a long, tiresome ride for a small child, but I enjoyed the new scenery. I was not a child to complain if I did get tired.

Adjoining the picnic grounds was a big white two-story house. It belonged to Wish and Mary Keithley. They were a distant relative. Dad had stayed with them and worked for them before he was married. He took me over to show me off to them. I was so impressed with the house. The houses I was used to were either log or unpainted wood. An occasional one had two stories but in no way did they compare with this house. I remember they had an outside well with a hand pump which was quite a mystery to me. This house still stands in Taneyville and is in fair repair, but compared with the many nice new homes it is certainly not the glorious home I remember. Dad had a good rapport with this family and I remember the boys, Ernest and Chester, visited our home. ! was acquainted with their children who were near my age and counted them friends and relatives. I still exchange letters with Freda.

Another picnic I remember while still a small child was on Bull Creek between the Branhart and Chapman farms. This picnic had ail the usual entertainments. They also had a horse race which is the only one I ever saw at a picnic.

Rose O'Neill, who became famous for her Kewpie Doll creations, was at this picnic. She had a friend with her who was called Billie Bird. Not many girls were called Billie at that time. She had on a neat pair of riding pants and I don't believe I had seen a lady with pants on before. Also she was a whistler and could imitate many bird calls.

At this picnic I played with Clista Gill among others. She was taking care of her little brother. I still had dreams of having a baby brother. I told Clista how I would love to have a brother like she had. She laughed at me and said I would change my mind if I had to take care of him.

Another thing which marked the day was that my future husband was there, although I can't remember noticing him, yet he noticed me. The point of interest was my hat. It was a red hat with little bails hanging around the brim. He was more interested in the hat than in me, but I feel it may have been prophetic as many years later I once again claimed his attention. I did not wear a hat that time, so his interest was entirely in me. He has been interested in me ever since and I certainly noticed him that time. We have been interested in each other for over sixty years.

I will touch lightly on events that occurred in two more picnics. At a picnic on Bear Creek close to Day Post Office, my playmates were Hazel and Pauline. We did the usual rounds and had lots of fun; but the highlight was when someone brought the news that Pauline had a baby brother. I should have been jealous, but I only remember excitement. They named him Bobby and ail of his life he was so special to me. I would have "fit a circle saw" for him. He lived to be married and have a teenage son. It was quite a blow to me when he passed away.

One more picnic that made an impact on me for two reasons: Pauline and I bought many balloons on sticks. There was a reason why we had to buy so many. Several young couples were courting. We wanted to be around them. Of course, they didn't want us there so every time we came they managed to burst our balloons. They were so sly about it that we didn't catch on they were doing it, so a good portion of our money was spent for balloons.

Another highlight of that picnic was the "Prettiest Baby" show. They had these shows at every picnic, but this one was very special, for Aunt Glessie entered Bobby in it and he won the prize. We felt they gave the prize to the right baby. There were many o picnics and I missed few of them. Money was scarce in those days but somehow Daddy always seemed to have plenty saved back so I could have a good time.

Elementary School Days

The folks were so afraid I would get hurt, they did not start me to school until I was seven. There was no kindergarten in the little rural schools, but you were to start first grade at the age of six. Many children started at age four. I was straining at the bit I was so anxious to go to school. Mother would take me to school on horseback. She would then return home but would be so concerned about me that she would come about the last recess and stay until school was over. I didn't like the set up. I thought everyone would think I wasn't smart enough to take care of myself. Mother had a beautiful hat. It was navy blue, but the inside of the wide brim was pink. I couldn't appreciate the hat because of the embarrassment I felt in having her come early to pick me up. One time I told her, "I get so tired of seeing that pink hat coming down the road I can hardly stand it."


My first school teacher was Ralph Whitley. He was also the janitor. It was the custom in rural schools that the teachers also did the janitor work. Ralph had two thumbs on one hand. It was a curiosity to me. I can still remember that when he swept the floor he would hold the broom handle between the two thumbs. He was a very nice teacher. In those days the students were just placed in the grade they were suited to. My mother had taught me at home and I was eager to learn so I had a good background. The first day I was placed in the first grade, but I performed so well that I was moved to the second grade. Very shortly I was promoted to the third grade. My Grandpa Cupp was a teaser. He figured up at the rate I was going how long it would take for me to graduate from the eighth grade. I never had any trouble with my school work and I dearly loved school. One reason I liked school so well was because I loved to be with other children. I was certainly an avid reader.

My fourth grade teacher was Almer Ridge. He was a young single fellow from Walnut Shade and was a very good teacher. I liked him very much, but I don't remember ever seeing him again after school was over.

My fifth grade teacher was Bert Rea. He was sort of odd. He was easy on the children and our folks didn't think we learned very much. At the end of the year he held the whole class back and did not promote us. We were so mad as we had done everything he had told us to do and nothing had been said to make us think we wouldn't pass. His only explanation was that we were just too young to go on to a higher class. Once I played a joke on him. It is a wonder he didn't whip me. We had put on a program at the county fair and he had given me a recitation that I did not like. Later, plans were made for a pie supper at our school (Pleasant Shade). He had not planned to have a program, but some of the people expected a program at a pie supper, so he hurriedly got together a jumped-up program. I remember that Kathryn Ingenthorn [Ingenthron] and her father, Charley, sang a song. The teacher told me to give the recitation that I did at the fair. I hated to do it and complained a lot at home. At that time Aunt Glessie was in the hospital and Mother had gone to be with her. Dad's sister, Ann, a single girl, had come to be with Dad and me while Mother was gone. She said, "I will fix you up with a verse to say," and this is the one she gave me:

Of all the beast that roams the woods
My teacher said he'd rather be an owl
So he could sit upon the school house
An look down at the gals.

If Mother had been there she would never have let me say it, but she wasn't there so say it I did. When the teacher called my name I just marched up and said my poem. Everyone laughed and thank the Lord, he did too. However, he made me say the other poem too.

Long years later I was joined at lunch at The Shack in Branson by a lady whom I learned was Bert's ex-wife. We discussed Bert and she asked if he was very rough on the children. I said, no, that he was really too easy on us. She said we were very lucky, for the very next year he was mean to the children. She said that one day he whipped every child in school.

Say, wasn't I lucky that he didn't whip me when I played that trick on him.

Well, I remember quite a lot about that pie supper. Aunt Ann made a peach pie for me to take to the supper. Clifford Tinker bought my pie.

The next year, bad as I hated to, we took the fifth grade over. Loma Layton was the teacher. Her husband was dead. She had two little girls, Hazel and Imogene. They were not school age, but sometimes she would bring Hazel, the oldest one, to school with her. Little did I ever think that some day Hazel and I would be teaching in the same school system. We taught together in Spokane School. She was an excellent teacher and my three older children had her for a teacher. While Loma was teaching, she ran for the office of treasurer in Christian County. She won the race and had to quit the school when she was installed in office. She later mar-fled Fred Schupbach. She lived a very active life and lived to be 95 years old.


My cousin Mary Lee Stewart (Snapp) finished teaching the school year. In spelling class she gave what was called headmarks. The class would stand up in a line and take turns at spelling the words in each day's lesson. At the end of the class, whoever was at the head of the class earned a headmark. Then next time that person went to the bottom of the class. But you could work your way to the head again. If someone in front of you misspelled a word and you spelled the word correctly, you would go ahead of them. At the end of the year, whoever had the most headmarks would get a prize. I got the most headmarks and Mary gave me a dictionary for my prize. Also that year there was a county-wide spelling contest. Each school in the county was given a list of words for the teacher to teach the children. Then each school was to have a spelling match to determine their best speller. Each school was to send their best speller to Forsyth for a spelling match to determine the best speller in Taney County. I won the match in our school and my parents would not allow me to go to Forsyth. Forsyth seemed such a long way so they were afraid for me to go.

Mary boarded with us part of the time. Once she brought her sister Merle to stay the week and visit school. That was a real treat for me. Merle was, and still is, a very special person to me. There were only two day's difference in our ages; I was born December 10 and she was born December 12, 1915.

My sixth grade teacher's name was Ragie Sturman, before she got married and changed her name shortly after she started teaching. She married Elmer Buttram. He taught school at Walnut Shade that year. However, they were not strangers and came from the same area. I suppose they were already engaged. The schools were just about four miles apart. It was a handy set-up for them. She was a very sweet and efficient teacher and I was sorry not to have her again the next year. We moved over the hill to the Haseltine Ranch and I was in Meadows School District, so I had to change schools.

I had a really nice teacher in the seventh grade at Meadows. Her name was Marie Melton. She had auburn hair and was so pretty. My aunt, Hazel Keithley, who was just five months older than I was, stayed with us and went to school that year. We both enjoyed it very much. Uncle George Clevenger had a little store just behind the school house. We kept the path home strewn with Roasty Toasty candy wrappers. If you never tasted a Roasty Toasty candy bar, you have surely missed something.

The next year we moved back over the hill to Clausen Hollow and I was back at Pleasant Shade for the eighth grade. Ressie Sturman was my teacher. She was a sister to Ragie. By that time, Ragie had a little boy named Bobby. Ressie was just a page out of a fashion magazine. She had shoulder length naturally curly hair and she had such pretty clothes. That was a year for short dresses which was a little problem to her. We had replaced the water bucket and dipper with a new water dispenser that worked just like our modem fountains. When she would bend over to get a drink her dress was just too short, so she would have one of us girls stand behind her and hold her dress tail down.

Many of the games that gave us so much pleasure have gone out of style now. But they were really fun. We played dare base where each person had their own base. When someone dared to leave their base, the rest would try to catch them and bring them over to their base. The winner was the one who had the most people on their base.

Another game was stink base. Two sides chose up and out to one side they had what they called the stink base. When they caught someone from the opposing side, they had to go stand on the stink base. Their side could release them from the stink base by running in and touching their hand. They could then return to their home base. However, if the one who was coming to get them got caught, they both had to remain. The side who had the most at the end of the game was winner.

Steal sticks was very like that game except instead of the stink base each side had a pile of the same number of sticks which each side tried to steal for their pile. Several people would try to steal the sticks. If anyone got caught they had to go over to the other side. While some got caught others were busy stealing sticks. The side having the most sticks in their pile at the end of the game was winner.

Of course we played ball, and some of the older kids were really good and would often knock the ball over the fence and into the Weatherman's yard.

We played ante-over. On one side a team would take their stand and the other side would take the other side of the school. The object was to throw the ball over the school house and that group would try to catch it. If they missed they would return the ball over the house. As they threw the ball they would yell "ante-over" to alert the opposing team that the ball was coming. The school house was high and they would have to try several times to get it to go over. If they caught it they would run around and try to tag a player who would come to their side.

The boys played a game they called "Shinny." It was too rough for the girls. It was a variation of hockey. They each had a club and they had a tin can which they tried to hit over the goal line. Sometimes they would miss the can and hit someone's leg. I suppose that is why they called it shinny.

There were lots of big trees on the school ground. When the leaves began to fall we would rake up huge piles of leaves and play in them. We would run and jump into them. We would cover each other up with leaves. It was a fun thing to do, but we came out pretty dusty and dirty.

At Meadows we played a ball game called "two eyed cat." A batter stood at each end of the ball field with catchers behind them and a pitcher in the middle.

Other players played the outfield. The pitcher took turns serving the bail to the batters. If either one hit a bail they would change bases. If they were tagged while running, or if either one struck out, that player went to the outfield and another player moved up. If someone caught a fly, they got to take the batter's place. That is the only place I ever saw two-eyed cat played.

There are a few more things that happened while I was in grade school that I wish to mention. There was a bad accident that happened at Pleasant Shade while Loma Schupbach was the teacher. There were lots of walnut trees with big nice walnuts on them. When the walnuts began to fall we children would spend lots of time at noon recess cracking walnuts and eating the goodies. On the day of the accident, my aunt, Jewell Cupp, who was my age, was visiting school with me. There was a nice big walnut tree down the road from the school house and some of the boys liked to go down there to crack walnuts. It was a little off the school grounds, but it was in plain sight and it was ail right for them to go there.

One day Preston Estep and Clifford and Hershel Palmer went. When the bell rang to commence classes, Clifford and Hershel started running down the road toward home. Preston started running toward the school house screaming every breath. The Palmer boys had a dynamite cap and Preston had set it off. It blew off some of his fingers. We were so scared that Jewell and I started running for home. It was a hot afternoon and we lived about a mile and a half away. We ran all the way and we were as hot as stewed owls and our faces were as red as beets. Since we left quickly we missed some of the excitement. Many years later, I asked Muriel (Weatherman) Bilyeu about what happened after we left. At the time I asked her, we were both living in the Ozark Senior Citizens Apartments. Back then, the Weathermans lived very close to the school. Her dad went to tell Preston's folks. In the meantime the teacher fainted and Muriel's mother had to get water to bring her out of it. There weren't many cars then and I don't know how he got to the doctor. It is a wonder he didn't bleed to death. Muriel couldn't remember how he got to the doctor either. It had been a long time ago. The Palmer boys ran as long as they could. Clifford had an enlarged heart and was not very strong. Hershel had to leave him at a neighbor's and go on and get Aunt Kate to come back in a buggy to get him.

Another thing that happened about that time that was really nice for me is that on October 12, 1926, my baby sister was born. We named her Betty Lou and she was so sweet I wondered how I ever thought I wanted a baby brother.

In the spring after she was born we had a house fire that took ail of our belongings. We had gone to spend the day with Grandpa and Grandma Cupp. As we came home in the afternoon, we stopped by Elbert Glover's and they came out to the wagon to visit. They told us that Grandpa Keithley had been by going to our place so we hurried on toward home. When we got in sight we saw the house on fire. We were afraid Grandpa Keithley was asleep in the house, as he often took afternoon naps. Dad whipped up the horses and finally got out of the wagon and started running. About that time we saw Grandpa coming down through the field on his horse. We lost everything, but we were so glad that all of us were safe. For years afterward I would start to go get something I used to have and then remember I didn't have it anymore. The two possessions I prized the most were my organ and a big Rose O'Neill Kewpie doll.

I had always wanted to learn to play music. The folks went to a sale down past Walnut Shade. It was at the home of my school teacher, Almer Ridge. At this sale they bought me an organ. I just loved it. I learned to play by chords on that organ and that was all I ever learned. My Kewpie doll came from Webb City. Mother had a brother sick with tuberculosis there. She felt she had to go see him. It was hard for her to leave me at home. When she came t home she brought me the big Kewpie. I loved it so much. The organ had a place to hold song books and that was where I kept my doll. Both of my prize possessions went up in the smoke together.

Another highlight in my life: the year I graduated from the eighth grade, the County Superintendent, Roy G. Bums, had a special day for ail the graduates in the county. It was held at the old Forsyth High School up the hill from Shadow Rock Park. There, all the graduates went to get their diplomas. Forsyth seemed a long way off. I was worded how I could get there. Then Albert Meadows, a young neighbor with a car, took the graduates from Meadows School and I got to go along. I was so excited. Mother and I planned ahead about what I could have to wear. We ordered a dress from either National Bellas Hess or Chicago Mail Order. I forget which catalog we used. I picked out a white pique dress with a long printed coat. Mother said it cost too much. There was another one much like the one I wanted. It had a short jacket and we agreed on that one. When the package came it was the dress I had wanted. Mother had just wanted to surprise me. I was ecstatic!


High School Days

My greatest desire was to be able to attend high school. There was none close so that meant I would have to stay away from home if I got to go. I was not all sure my parents would permit me to do this. Two neighbor friends, Frances and Esther Whitley, planned to attend high school at New Flint Hill in Rockaway Beach. This was a grade school plus a two year high school. They called that type of high school a "Job High." The Whiteleys planned to move to Rockaway Beach but Ralph did not want to move until his crops were harvested. Frieda Freeland Ingenthron was high school teacher and she was Frances and Esther's aunt by marriage. She was anxious to help the girls go to school. Ruby Sportsman was teaching at Meadows that year and she and Frieda were good friends. So they made a plan. Ruby would teach the girls until time for their parents to move. She would also teach any of the other graduates who wished to come to school. Frieda would order the books and send the test papers she was using. Several children came, but Frances, Esther, and ! were the only ones to go on to high school. Ruby taught us about a quarter until the Whitleys could move. The folks let me go and stay with Uncle Hugh and Aunt Glessie. I was so happy to be with Pauline again.

Pauline was in grade school. We walked about two miles to school. I just loved the setup and I did really well in school. I also enjoyed the play activity as well as the school work. It was there I got my first introduction to basketball. I really enjoyed the game. There was an outdoor court. The boys used it one day and the girls the next day. There were other extra curricular activities that I enjoyed very much too. I remember going on a science field trip. Also Frieda took us to Forsyth for us to see how the Taney County Republican was set up. Her father, Mr. William Freeland, was the editor. The same day she took us on to Powersite Dam and let us go through it. It was certainly a big day for me. We had a big play that year which I enjoyed so much. It was a huge success. After the play was over, Frieda and Rachel Church gave a party for the ones that helped in the play. They served us cake and jello with whipped cream. That was a big treat for me. I was used to having cake but the jello and whipped cream was a specialty to me.

We also had a carnival that year which was an-other first for me. We solicited things to use and people were generous. We had a fish pond, cake walk, and other various ways to make money.

Another thing we did that year was to make a school annual. We made our own books. We crumpled brown paper and dyed it yellow, then covered hard paste board for the backs. Norman Hoyt, a neighbor boy, was experimenting with photography. He took pictures of people and important occasions, then developed them and made enough copies for everyone. We made the title pages and lots of the printing by cutting them on linoleum blocks. We made our own printing press with two-by-fours. It was truly an education for us and the little books were neat. When I moved to another school I took my book to show it and it disappeared. I was so disappointed to lose it. It was a special treasure.

The next three years of high school I stayed with Grandpa and Grandma Keithley and went to Spokane. Hazel started high school that year and we had transportation. Lucille and Edith McMichael were also in school and their dad saw that we had transportation. The superintendent was Wallace Wilson. His wife, Frances, was a teacher and also Helen Cunningham. My last year of school Mary Palen took Helen's place as teacher. We had many more activities than I had had at New Flint Hill. I especially enjoyed the operettas. I graduated in 1933. We had thirteen in my graduating class, seven boys and six girls. I was class valedictorian and Donald Landers was salutatorian. As far as I know today, all of the girls are living, and all of the boys but one are dead. I certainly enjoyed my high school days at Spokane.

Out In The World

The same year I graduated I was hired to teach school at Enterprise. At that time you were qualified to teach when you finished high school. I did have to take a teacher's examination. I had to go to Ozark for the test. Charlie Boyd was county superintendent. Transportation was scarce, but I managed. Wiley Baker was the mail carrier from Bluff to Chadwick He delivered the mail to Chadwick, then took me on to Ozark and picked the mail and went back. That was the first time I have ever been to Chadwick.

School began in July. The school house was old and had no paint. It was a rural school with all eight grades. I started with around thirty people, but they thinned down as the year went on. Several girls that had graduated the year before came back for a while and took the eighth grade over just to have some place to go. They all dropped out before the year was over. One girl got married. Several of the children were bigger than I was, but we made it just fine. We had fun together. I stayed at Clarence and Nettie's the first part of the year. I walked or rode horseback to school.


Their son Clifford went with me. He was sickly and had to miss a lot of school.

I got married on October 21, 1933, to Hosea Bilyeu, Clarence's brother. I was eighteen and Hosea was twenty-four. We stayed on at Clarence and Nettie's until January. Then we were able to rent a place just across the creek from the school house. It was called the Winters Place for the people who at one time had lived there. Clum and Sarah McGrath were living there but were getting ready to move. We moved into one room and we lived in the same house for a while. I remember the first night we stayed there, when I got home from school Sarah had a big pot of brown beans cooked for supper. They were so good to us and became our lifelong friends.

The house wasn't very good but it looked good to us for it was our first home. There was a big spring and a branch of cold water flowing off from it. I thought at the time I would never like any place as well.

Before I go farther I would like to say a little about our courtship and marriage. A revival was in progress at Oak Ridge Church that went on for about 100 nights. Jim Smythe was the preacher. Hosea came on horseback and asked to take me home. We had been around places together some before, but that was our first real date. After that night he went down around Baxter, Missouri, in lower Stone County. I think he was working for his Uncle Martin. He was gone for about three months and we had no contact during that time. While he was away, I got saved in the revival meeting. The day I was baptized at Antioch, he showed up again. It was a cold day and there was ice in the water when I was baptized. After the baptizing we went to a house to change clothes. I had no chance to speak with him. He was on horseback and I was in a car with other people, but when I got back to Grandpa's, he was there. We visited for a while, but I don't remember if we made a date or not. We possibly did for soon after that I would ride down from school on Friday and he would meet me and we would visit at Clarence and Nettie's. It got serious pretty fast. When I started teaching at Enterprise School, I boarded with Clarence and Nettie Bilyeu. Clarence was Hosea's brother and Nettle was my aunt. Hosea and I kept busy seeing each other and soon had plans for marriage. At first we set the date for Christmas. Then getting more anxious, we moved it to Thanksgiving. Then Uncle Elliott Cupp and Dessie Coker got married. That was just too much, so two weeks later on October 21, 1933, we tied the knot. We rode double on horseback to E.W. "Windy" Williams, who was Justice of the Peace on Pine Ridge, to get married. Elliott and Dessie went with us and also Murl Bilyeu.

The Williams' lived in a very small house. There was no screen door but there was a little half gate to keep out the dogs and chickens. While we were being married a big rooster flew up on the gate and crowed. Mr. Williams stopped the ceremony long enough to swear at the rooster and say, "This is none of your business." After we were settled and had children, Mr. Williams passed away. As they were going through his possessions they found a part of our license he was supposed to have recorded. Frankie Andrews brought it to us and we mailed it to the Recorders Office in Forsyth. We hope that made our marriage legal. However, some people said his commission had expired and that he did not have the authority to perform the marriage ceremony. I don't know about that, but I do know it lasted through nine children and sixty-one years (as of now) and has come through in fine shape.

The night we got married we got the works. A big crowd came to chivari us. I don't know how the word go to so many people over such a large area as there were no telephones available. No one fired a shot or rang a cowbell but Mother Nature did her part. A huge thunderstorm came up. It rained all night so everyone stayed and danced all night. You just should have been there.

As I have said, we stayed on with Clarence and Nettie through most of the winter. Clarence and Hosea hunted and trapped and sold their fur for some extra money.

When we left Clarence and Nettie's we moved to the Winters place as I have already told you. We lived there from 1934 until 1938. We lived in sight of Enterprise School. I should have kept on teaching as the next few years the drought hit and we surely needed the money, but Hosea wanted to make the living. I was offered the school again and I was able and available but I turned it down. In the later years after several children, we found out it took both of us working to keep our heads above water.


Hosea with Jimmie, first child, 1935.
This place where we first lived had good bottom farm land. Hosea enjoyed plowing and planting. One of my students, Lorene Dye Barnhart, said one thing really impressed her. As we came home from school, Hosea would be plowing. When he would see me he would stop his plowing and we would run to meet each other and hug and kiss. I am so glad that this kind of feeling for each other has never changed. After sixty-one years of married life, we still feel that way about each other.

We lived at the Winters place about four years. We enjoyed good times there but we had many set backs. Hosea would have his hay cut and raked and looking good. Then the creek would get up and wash it all away. Finally the rains stopped and the drought came and all the crops died for want of water. One year we had a fine garden and though we had no rain, we irrigated the garden from the big spring. It was looking really well until one day a black cloud came over the mountain and it proved to be many, many grasshoppers. They lit in our garden and made short work of it. They ate all the things in the garden and then started in on the fence posts and hoe handles.

Many times it would look like rain was coming so we would sit out in an old buggy and watch it. Then after a while the cloud would just go away. The creeks dried up and the fish died. Springs went dry. However, the big spring still kept a steady flow. Many people came in wagons and trucks and hauled water from our spring. In October 9, 1934, my mother, then thirty-nine years old, had a beautiful baby girl. Her name was Anna Belle Lee Keithley. She was just so sweet I decided I must have a baby. So on July 11, 1935, our little boy was born. We named him James Elmer and called him Jimmie. He took the place of the baby brother I had longed for and never had. He was blonde and blue eyed and just beautiful. We loved him so much.

Then on September 4, 1936, little dark-eyed Guy Wilton was born. We loved him too. He lived only two months. He died November 16 from a bowel infection. He died very quickly in just a few days time. It was such a sad time. We missed him greatly but we still had Jimmie. He could walk and soon was talking and doing all sorts of cute, smart things. He loved to take the Bible and pretend to preach. He was such a blessing to us.

On December 16, 1937 our son Bobby Joe Bilyeu was born. He seemed to take the place of Wilton. He was soon to have a larger place to fill. That winter Jimmie took measles followed by pneumonia and on March 4, 1938 he passed away. It was almost more than we could cope with. The Winters place we had liked so well was no longer the same place. We decided that because of the mist that rose from the big spring, that it was not a healthy place to raise children, so we traded places with Leonard and Mamie. Neither of us owned where we lived but just rented. It was no trouble to make the change. We moved to the top of the Dry Hollow Hill.

It was there on January 8, 1939, that our daughter, Barbara Jean, was born. We were so happy to have a baby girl. Before Barbara was born Hosea kept the horse in the barn harnessed and ready to go after Frances Dye, the granny woman, at a moment's notice. He had been ready for a week or so in advance. Frances had delivered Wilton and Bobby Joe. My Grandma Cupp was to deliver Jimmie and she did help but it was a hard delivery and we finally had to call in Dr. Wade. However, we had made it fine with Wilton and Bobby Joe and expected no problem that time.

The night of January 8 was an extremely cold night. Birth pains began around midnight. Hosea went after our good neighbor, Fannie Harp, to stay with me while he went after Frances. The horse was ready so he hooked her to a cart and started out. On the way he stopped and alerted Bonnie so she could come up to be with me. He carried a lantern to light the way. He had to drive about six miles and cross the creek several times. The creek was up some and he had to hold the lantern high to keep the water from splashing on it and breaking the globe. The trip was successfully made and the baby was anxiously waiting to be delivered. It was quite a traumatic time and was made even more so because my aunt, Jewell Bostic, had given her life in child bearing on the same date a few years earlier.


We lived there about two years, from 1938 to 1940. Hosea raised some sheep, farmed some and worked some for other people. We had some sickness and owed doctor bills. We just couldn't seem to get ahead financially.

Thelma, left rear, with her aunt, Pauline Melton. Children are Bobby Melton, left, and Betty Keithley, Thelma's sister. Thelma's birthplace in background. Photo ca. 1928.
Going to California

In 1941 Hosea got a chance to go to California with Emery and Minnie Williams to find some work. Going to California had been one of my biggest dreams. Hosea, however, said no way he would take me and the children on a trip like that not knowing how it would be when we got there. We needed money badly and I didn't want him to back out so I didn't insist on going. He tried to leave things in pretty good shape so we would be comfortable while he was gone. I remember he cut up the biggest pile of cook wood we had ever had. He made plans for his nephew, Clifford Bilyeu, to come and stay with us while he was gone. Clifford was just a boy but he could be helpful to us and keep us company. Bobby Joe was three years old and Barbara two. They listened to the plans but didn't seem to fully realize what it would mean to have Daddy gone until the night before he was to leave. There was a religious service in Dry Hollow and of course we went. After the service was over, everyone was shaking hands with Hosea and telling him goodbye and giving lots of advice. Suddenly Bobby Joe got the full impact of what was going to happen. He began to whimper and said, "Daddy you are not going to go off and leave me, are you?" It was almost too much for Hosea. When we got home that night he said, "I wish now we had planned to all go." I said, "It is not too late. Just say the word," but he didn't say it. The next morning after a rather sleepless night he said,"If you can get ready you can go." I said, "I can be ready" and began to pack, clean clothes and dirty clothes. He went up to Verda Dye's and sold her a cow to get extra money. Verda and the girls came down and helped me get ready. Around noon we were excitedly on our way. This was a great experience for me. I had never made any trips and I enjoyed every new attraction so much. As we crossed Monarch Pass in July it was sleeting. Emory had overhauled his car before we started but wound up with a missing gasket. The old car was using about as much oil as it was gasoline. We stopped in Salida, Colorado for several hours while Emory worked on the car.

When we hit the desert it was very hot. Their daughter, Wilda, was just a baby. The heat was hard on her. Of course we had no air conditioning. Minnie let the baby suck on pop sickles until it frost bit her mouth. We crossed the Donner Pass and down through Truckee. When we got to California we stopped off at Lodi where Hosea's relatives, the Wilhites, lived. Emory and Minnie went on to visit Minnie's relatives who lived not too far from Lodi. They promised to check on the way back to see if Hosea had found work. He did find a job but it didn't work out. Hosea got a job on a farm. He was using a team of horses for something and the horses ran away with him. After the horses ran away, Hosea was ready to catch Emory on his way back through. We went on to where Ipp and Frances Williams lived. Hosea got work on an adjoining farm. He built a little lean-to out of drying crates until we could get a tent. We worked out there about three months in the fruit. We got separated from Emory and Minnie and the first thing we knew they had gone back to Missouri. That left us out there without any transportation. We bought a Model-A Ford from Conrad Wagoner. We came back to Missouri in it in the last of October.


Back Home

Hosea promised when we got back to Missouri he would get a regular job as we just couldn't make a living by farming. We came into the place we had left from but Claude had traded the place to Glen and Della, Hosea's sister, for the Chapman place. Our little bit of furniture had been moved to a log crib at the Snow place where Hosea's parents were living at that time. We spent the first night with Glen and Della and that night it came the first killing frost. That was the last night in October. Everything was still green and pretty in the Ozarks.

We visited around for a couple of months. Hosea never came up with a job. I don't think he tried very hard. Hosea and his brother, Luther, got up the idea of us moving to the Chase place. It was an awful old house and I didn't want to move there. It was just an old log shack with one long room and a little shed room on the back that wasn't finished up. It had a loose tin roof that just rattled when the wind blew like it was going to take off. Hosea didn't argue with me but he just drove me around visiting until I got so tired I would have moved into a cave to get settled down. I was pregnant at that time with Emma Lou and I was a little hard to get along with. When I finally agreed to move, Hosea got busy and fixed the house up the best he could. While we were living there, Hosea had all of his teeth pulled. The poison from them went all through him. His hands swelled terribly and he was very sick. It was a wonder he didn't die. He craved cold water so badly and of course we had no ice or refrigerator. I carried water from the Snow Spring and that was a long way. By the time I got the water there it surely wasn't cool. I was getting pretty large with my pregnancy and the trips to the spring were hard on me plus there was a big gate to open and shut which was about more than I could do. It was a rough time, but we made it.

I had had granny women deliver some of the kids and a doctor some too. Well, for Emma Lou I was going to use the doctor. We lived on the Chase place at that time and if the creek got up the doctor couldn't ford it, so early in June we moved a batching outfit up to Claude's house so we would not be caught on the wrong side of the creek when it was time for the baby to be born. On June 19th, Dr. Wade delivered Emma Lou. We stayed there a week or two after she was born and then went back to the Chase place. We stayed on there for a month or two and we got a chance to rent what we called the John Blansit place up on Chestnutridge. I liked that place very much. Hosea borrowed some money from Derry St. Clair and bought some milk cows and we began to make a bet-ter living. Hosea raised good gardens and we sold milk. It was at this place that Gay Lea was born. Dr. Michem delivered her on September 4, 1943. That was the same day our little Wilton was born in 1936.

It was while we lived there that Bob and Emma Lou had bad spells of pneumonia. We were so afraid as that was what caused Jimmie's death.

In the summer before Gay was a year old I was offered the job of teaching school at Enterprise again. It was so strange how things worked out. In the spring of 1934 Enterprise School had 30 applicants wanting to teach there. (This was the year after I had taught there.) Neal Bilyeu was hired. Now it was ten years later and in July there had not been one application. Mrs. Dessa Manuel was area school supervisor. One day she came to our house and asked me if I would teach the coming year. At that time teachers were supposed to have 60 hours of college work and I did not have a single hour. She said if I would go the August term of college she would approve me. Hosea did not much want me to go but I finally decided to go as we did need the money so much. Mother took care of the children for me. I had to stay up in Springfield through the week and come home oil weekends. August sure seemed a long month.

The swinging bridge at Enterprise school.
Bull Creek in background.


Bob and Barbara both started school that year. We drove a buggy to Dry Hollow then walked over the hill to school. We got Zoe Davis to stay with us during the week. During that year the place we were living on sold, so we had to move. The place in Dry Hollow where Emma Lou was born was again empty so we moved there temporarily. We knew we could not live there long for they wanted to keep the land for pasture and Hosea had to have land and a place for livestock. After we moved there we did not to drive but walked all the way to school. That was the year the state started to plan some way for the school children to have a warm lunch at school. They furnished several articles of food. One thing we received was oranges. They sure were good. We had a big old heater at school and that was all we had to fix anything hot for lunch. I would prepare hot chocolate or soup at home and heat it during the morning on the wood heater. Things are so different now with good cooks and equipment to prepare balanced meals and even serve breakfast.

Well it was in March, 1945 we got the chance to buy our first home. We didn't think we could possibly buy a home without even asking, but A.F. St. Clair met Hosea in the road and wanted to sell him the place where we were to live so long in Dry Hollow. Hosea told him there was no way we could buy a place but he said that we could. So he sold the place for $1800.00 at $50.00 down and $50.00 per month. We could not pay the $50.00 down until I got my next check. This was a ninety acre farm with what we considered a good house. It had not been built very long. It had only rough siding on the outside. It had only one bedroom, a living room, and kitchen and dining room combined. It had a walk-in pantry and a walk-in clothes closet. It looked wonderfully good to us. We lived there eighteen years and raised our seven children there. Later after buying the ninety acres, we bought thirty acres more from the same person. We never missed a payment and when we paid the last payment he said he would like to loan us $2000.00 more. He was a good man and a good friend. He had good business sense and was very honest. He would buy places and live on them awhile and sell them and make a little money on them. If there was a sale he would tell Hosea to buy whatever he wanted and he would let him have the money to pay for it. Sometimes Hosea did just that.

I did not teach the next year for I was expecting another baby. Anita Kay was born September 16, 1945. Dr. Michem delivered her and Gay Lea too. He would come to the house to deliver the baby. About three or four days later he would come back to the house see how I was doing.

I taught my third and last school at Enterprise in 1946. Then I was expecting another baby and Buddy Mack was born August 17, 1947.

Enterprise school. Bobby Bilyeu, far left, Barbara Bilyeu front row center. Thelma at right, 1943 or 1944.
There were problems in his delivery so Dr. Michem took me to the Osteopathic Hospital in Springfield where he was delivered by a C-section. He was my first child to be born in a hospital. Both he and I made it fine. They were supposed to have tied my tubes so I would not have any more children, but on November 2, 1948, Hosea Jr. was born. I am sure God knew what he was doing for he made a wonderful preacher and he has certainly been a blessing to us. It was at this time that Enterprise School District consolidated with Spokane. That fall before school started I spoke to Glen Keltner, a board member, and told him if they needed a substitute teacher I would like to be considered. The very first day of school they were missing a 7th and 8th grade teacher. I got my opportunity and taught the first quarter, after which they hired a regular teacher. However, luck was with me. The first and second grades were combined and there were so many students they could not be given the help they needed. They divided the classes and gave me first grade. I taught the whole year and really enjoyed it. We didn't have a car, so I got to and from school by riding the school bus. We were living in Dry Hollow then.

Close to the end of the school year the county superintendent and area supervisor came visiting the school. I asked for an audience with them. I presented my plea for approval to continue teaching in the system. At that time, to teach in a consolidated school you were supposed to have 60 hours of college work. I think I had only six hours from the August term I had attended. However, if you were already in the system they would carry you along by attending summer school. I based my plea on the fact that although I was only a substitute, I had taught the whole year.


The supervisor understood my point but said he could not possibly approve me. I thanked him kindly and assured him I understood. I went home hoping I would get to substitute some more the next year.

That night there was a school board meeting, and the supervisor and county superintendent stayed to attend it. Good friends on the board came to my defense, and the next morning I learned that I had been approved after all. I started going to college in the summer and in all I taught seven years in the first grade and five years in the seventh. This was the beginning of a new lifestyle for us.

Hosea started working for the highway department and we began to be able to pay our way and have some vacations. We both had steady jobs. We visited relatives in Colorado. Anita was so pleased as she had been worrying because she had never been out of the state.

After teaching school 15 years (three years in rural school at Enterprise, seven years in the first grade and five years in the seventh grade in Spokane) I quit teaching in 1960. We tried farming again for awhile but just didn't make enough money so I had to get another job. I became a case worker for Family Services. Just before going to Family Services I worked a few months for Homer Bilyeu in the rest home. While I was working there Hosea got a job as custodian at Spokane School. We rented a place close to the school but later traded our home in Dry Hollow for a place right by the school in Spokane. It was just too hard getting in and out of Dry Hollow to go to work so we had decided to move close to our work.

I went to work for Family Services in August 1963. While working as a case worker in Ozark, I got a chance to go back to college. The state had a plan that they would pay my present wages while I went to college if I could finish my degree in a year. This was on condition that I came back and worked for Family Services for two years. I just couldn't let that opportunity go by. This extra education qualified me for a case work supervisor position. An opening came in Taney County and I took advantage of it. We kept our home in Spokane but bought a house trailer and moved it to Riverview near Forsyth. After working there about five years I got a chance to transfer to Stone County. That was back close to Spokane so we sold the trailer and moved back to Spokane. I worked at Galena about five years, at which time I could retire. A few months before I retired we sold our home in Spokane to our boy, Buddy, and bought a home in Taneyville. When I retired we moved there. It was a nice place, the best we had ever had, and we really liked it. It was just like a honeymoon to us. Hosea retired a few years before I did but was still pretty active. We raised good gardens and canned a lot of food. We set out grape vines and had our own grapes for grape jelly. We grew strawberries and made our famous frozen strawberry jam. All went well until Hosea became too disabled to keep everything up. We sold our home in Taneyville and moved to the Senior Citizens Apartments in Ozark. We like it really well here. All told we lived 18 years in Dry Hollow, 15 years in Spokane, and 14 years in Taneyville. It remains to be seen how long we will live here. Hosea is 86 years old and I will be 80 in January, 1995.

Our Religious Life I feel this account of my life would not be complete without mentioning about our church life. It has really played a big part in our life and I am sure that without it we would never have had the happy life we have had.

I was saved in a revival at Oak Ridge that lasted 100 nights. This was in the winter of 1932-33. Brother Jim Smythe held the revival and some of the ones who helped were Brother Ed Keithley, Brother Grover Roberts, Sister Smythe, and Sister Martha Blansit. Of course there were many others. I was baptized at Antioch in Bear Creek and there was ice in the water. Brother Ed Keithley baptized me. Although we were not dating at that time, I am glad that Hosea rode horseback from Dry Hollow and was there to see me baptized. We soon began dating steady and were married October 21, 1933.

Hosea was not a Christian at that time but was saved in 1934 and baptized in Bull Creek. We have had a wonderful time serving the Lord together.

In our early Christian life we went to church at Enterprise and Meadows. He was the first of his family to be saved and I was the first in mine. We had the privilege of seeing our fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters all accept the Lord.

Services were held at Enterprise and Meadows school houses. There was no church house in that vicinity at that time. Later on, the churches at Enterprise and Meadows joined together and built New Haven Church in Dry Hollow. After a number of years, a new church was built out on top of the hill. While down in the Hollow some of preachers to pastor and hold revivals were Sister Almeda Brittain and Sister Daisy Manes, Brother Troy Compton, Brother Esby Whorton, Brother Stark Dalton, and Brother Daylon Trout. We saw many loved ones saved at this place.


Another place we went to church for about eight years at one time was Craig Hollow Church a few miles west of Highlandville. Since we have moved to Ozark we have gone back to Craig Hollow. It is such a blessing to come back. Brother Ora has gone on to be with Jesus but some of the old-timers are left and descendants of others. The same sweet spirit is there.

Hosea was not an ordained preacher but was a good lay preacher and often filled in where needed. He would take over at Craig Hollow when Brother Ora would go out and hold revivals. He pastored at Horse Creek for about two years at one time and at Cave Springs about that long. He preached at Walnut Shade for awhile and about two years at Swan Church in the old school house.

After we moved to Taneyville he preached part time at the little Baptist Church there.

New Vision Church started in the Youth Camp and we started with it. Danny Frazier and Hosea did the preaching at the Youth Camp until they got a pastor. They chose Brother Floyd Roberts, a wonderful preacher. He was also a carpenter and put in many days building the church house. Many others donated their time and money. Hosea and I got to help Brother Floyd with the work. We helped with painting, varnishing and in any way we could. Sometimes it would just be keeping the debris swept up and disposed of. While Brother Floyd was pastor he also held many revivals at other churches. He bought a van and we went with him and Sister Gene to many places. He held revivals at Spring Creek, Girdner, Happy Home, Crane Methodist Church, and many others. Sometimes many people would ride the bus and we would sing and have services on the way. It was such a glorious time.

In Conclusion

Many nice things happened to me in the year of 1933. That was the year I was saved. It was the year I graduated from Spokane High School as valedictorian. It was the year I taught my first school and it was the year I got married. It was a very special year for me.

Not only did I graduate from Spokane, but all seven of my children graduated there. I taught school in that system for twelve years.

I graduated from college at SMSU when I was 52 years old. I had my last class with one of my former students, Suzanne Campbell. The last day of classes each one of us were asked to say a few words. Suzanne said, "I have an interesting story to tell. Mrs. Bilyeu was my first grade teacher and my seventh grade teacher. We are graduating from college together."

I think I have recorded the basic happenings in my life. Other things could be written. They say "The half has never yet been told." Some of it really shouldn't be told I imagine, but in 77 years I have a store of interesting stories which you might enjoy. However, unless you have a pretty long attention span, I had better let it stand as is.

To those who bother to read this, I hope you will find something to enjoy.

Yours truly Thelma Jean Keithley Bilyeu

December, 1993

Bull Creek valley, 1995, looking southeast. Clausen Hollow (Mathis or Matthews Hollow) rises to the left of second field, just beyond big field in foreground. Thelma Keithley's birthplace, a fourth to a half-mile up Clausen Hollow from Bull Creek. Old Keithley place was at far edge of big field.
Robert Flanders photo.


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