Volume 2, Number 12 - Summer/Fall 1967

Uncle Ben
From Stories of the Pioneers by E. J. and L. S. Hoenshel

One bright morning the editor and his wife walked out across Roark and stopped at the first house after crossing the bridge. Here we found a man several years past the allotted three score and ten, and his wife but a few years younger. This man with the patriarchal look and gentle voice was Uncle Ben McKinney. When we asked them for their life story, both of them complied. Mr. McKinney’s story follows:

"I was born in Middle Tennessee, but my father came to Missouri when I was quite small. We came in a wagon with a sort of boat-shaped bed, and it was called a Conestoga wagon. It was drawn by two yoke of oxen. We came to Cedar County first, but we came to Taney County when I was about eight years old. My father, R. S. McKinney, took up some fine ridge land a short distance east of Forsyth. My father was a carpenter, and worked away from home so much that he could not look after the farm very well, so he sold it and moved to Forsyth when I was about fifteen years old. My mother died when I was quite small.

"Father had six slaves when the war broke out. There were a number of families near Forsyth and on Swan Creek and Beaver that had slaves. Very few of these slaves were profitable, but some of them were very good.

"Of course there were no bridges, and we had to ford all the streams, but at some places on White River there were ferries. I remember once we had to cross Swan Creek, with an ox team when the water was high. The water was deep and swift, and your oxen will go down stream with the current when water is deep, instead of going straight across like horses. So a man took a long rope— probably a bed cord—tied one end around the horns of the near ox, crossed the river, climbed a tree, put the rope over a limb, and as the oxen started across he kept pulling on the rope to keep them from going down stream.

"I was living on the river when the war broke out. I tell you we had rough times then. You see we were on the border line, and first men of one side would come along plundering and stealing, and then men of the other side would come along doing the same thing. The men that did this were not the regular soldiers; they seemed to be under no control, were not subject to army discipline.

"I enlisted in the Confederate army under Captain Johnson, Green’s regiment, Missouri Cavalry. We found the army at Yellville, Arkansas, where we joined it. Then we went south into Louisiana and a short distance into Texas. I was in no regular hard-fought battle, but I was in a number of skirmishes.

"I was taken sick at Batesville, had the measles, then the mumps. I was sick a great deal of the time. I was with Price on his expedition into Kansas, but I was sick and crippled, and was with the commissary wagon most of the time.

"We had some pretty hard times in the army. I had an old piece of oilcloth, on which I would place some flour, mix it with some salt and water, stir it with a stick, then twist the stick round and round in the dough, hold the end of the stick close to the fire and bake the dough that stuck to it. We would mix corn meal in the same way, and then place it on a stone or board to bake. I got fat in the army, and I guess it was the dirt I ate that made me fat.

"I was mustered out at Shrevesport, went to St. Louis, then on train to Rolla, and from Rolla I footed it to Taney County. When I got home I found things in bad shape; the stock was gone, many houses and fences were burned, and things were surely discouraging.

"I was married, made one crop on Swan Creek, and then in 1867 we moved to a place in the bend of the river, for many years known as McKinney Bend, where we lived for nearly fifty years. We built up a good place there—had two houses on the place, one log and one frame. We always raised good crops there, and had plenty of fruit. We generally got a dollar a bushel for corn and about two cents a pound for hogs. We kept the hogs on the range most of the time, and fed but little corn. There was so little market for produce that it paid to raise only what we needed for ourselves, and that didn’t take much.

"We didn’t have so many wild animals as there were farther south in the pineries, but we had to keep our sheep in lots close to the house to protect them from the wolves.

"The canebrakes were thick here then. They were the kind used to make fishing poles, and some of them were as thick as iron bed posts. My wife’s father used to drive his cattle to the canebrakes in winter because the canes were green all winter. The woods were full of grass for pasture nearly all the year.

"We always had plenty to eat and plenty to


wear, and a little money. People were neighborly then—always helped one another. I helped build two school houses. The first one was of logs, a log sawed out for windows, puncheon floor, slabs put up a little slanting for desks, split logs for seats, no hinges on the doors—used wooden pins for hinges—and as I recollect it there was not a nail used in the house.

"There was no saw mill close, but there was a grist mill—water powerhouse—over on Beaver. We would take a sack of corn horseback to the mill, and wait until it was ground. A man named Nelson owned the mill, he sold it to Clapp and Clapp sold it to Kissee. Some times we had to wait a long time for our grist. I remember once I had to stay all night. I slept on the ground, but as the morning was cold I stopped at Caldwell’s to warm. They would have me eat with them, and they had fried mush. It was the first I had ever tasted and it tasted mighty good. As I remember it everything tasted good those times", and Uncle Ben smiled at the pleasing recollection.

"Steamboats used to come up the river to Forsyth, and one came as far as Hensley’s Ferry. The boats could come up this far only when the water was high. One boat came to Forsyth in the fall, stayed too long, the water went down and it had to stay all winter. The boats would bring hogs-heads of New Orleans sugar, molasses, cheese and the like, and would take back bacon, flour, and such things to New Orleans and other places down the river. That boat that stayed at Forsyth all winter had on board some hogsheads of sugar, and we boys made little holes in the barrels, got splinters and dug out all the sugar we could eat.

"We used to drive our cattle to Springfield. We hauled our dry goods from St. Louis in big wagons drawn by four horses. These wagons hauled only the lighter goods. Salt, iron and heavy goods came by boat to Linn Creek on the Osage, and were hauled from there. A number of freighters then lived at or near Forsyth.

"We sold 117 acres of the Bend farm to the Power company, and the remainder of our 300 acres was sold later, and is now called Long Beach.

"There are not many left that I played with when a boy", and here a sad melancholy look came to the face of Uncle Ben, and a pathetic tremor was in his voice as he thought of the playmates of long ago.

"We never had any children, but we raised six orphans.

"We used to go to camp meetings—go and stay a week. Some had tents, but most put up poles and threw quilts or wagon sheets over them. We had plenty of straw to scatter in the tents and to use for beds. There was one camp ground on Swan, north of Forsyth, and one in a hollow where the shouting could be heard for a mile. This place is still called Happy Hollow.

"We moved here a year ago thinking we would be contented, but it is not like our old home at The Bend."


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