Volume 2, Number 7 - Spring 1966

The Good Old Times
by Isaac Workman

(Continued from Winter Quarterly "Stories of the Pioneers," by E. J. and L. S. Hoenshel, printed in the White River Leader — 1916 or Thereabouts)

I was born in Christian County and lived there till the close of the war. When I was a little fellow I loved to fish, and to hunt squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and young chickens — and I’ve got many a "whoopin" for shooting the chickens. When I was eight or ten years old, I could handle one of the old flintrock shotguns, and then I went into the woods hunting deer. After that I had a rifle, and I reckon I’ve killed hundreds of deer, and wild turkeys unnumbered. I’ve gotten as many as fifty turkeys a day. They were so plentiful that I thought nothing of walking through a flock of thirty or forty without trying even to get one. I was out for deer then. I got four deer before breakfast one morning, and remember once of getting six in one day; often took the hide and left the carcass in the woods.

We farmed quite a lot of land, and so I went to school in winter, what little I went. I had to go three miles, and we had a log school house about thirty feet long with a ten or twelve foot fireplace. I didn’t do much good in school. The teachers didn’t know much themselves sometimes, and I’ve helped snowball the teacher until he’d have to close for that day.

Corn planting time came early with us, and after it was over in along about May 10, Dad would say, "boys, get the wagon ready and we’ll get out after sarvice berries." My oldest brother, Kit, knew a place where the deer always herded, and he could pick his deer; he would go out and bring in a deer for meat to last us on our trip, and we’d stay out several days on a week’s camping, and getting sarvice berries and drying them. By the time we got back it was corn-plowing time, and we went into that and stayed with it till the corn was laid by.

I often tell my wife that folks don’t know what enjoyment is nowadays. My goodness alive, we just had plenty in those days! Worked hard, but mixed a lot of fun with it, and living was easier than it is now.

We farmed a lot of land, had thirty-five to forty head of cattle, twelve to fifteen horses, 300 to 400 head of hogs, and always a lot of chickens and geese and ducks. I remember one season Mother sold one hundred young ducks. She never liked to raise turkeys — didn’t really need to raise them, there being so many wild one — but one year she had a few, and brought off a flock of about twenty or thirty young ones. They were continually around the door and under her feet, and one day said she, "Sam, round them turkeys up and run ‘em off." Sam did as Mother told him; he ran them off, all right, for we never saw them afterwards; that sure was the windup of them.

In the fall after we were through with harvesting, we would take a wagon with corn and camping outfit, gather the hogs together and take them miles into the woods into the huckleberry fields. One of us boys would walk ahead with a sack of corn, scatter it along and call the hogs, and the rest of us would follow and drive them. It was at least ten miles between settlements. We lived about ten miles from Ozark, and there were worlds of wild berries — wild strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and huckleberries; wild grapes, both summer and winter ones, the finest I have ever seen; and wild flowers. It seemed like the range provided everything we needed. What with all the fruit and game, and the grass and mast for feed, living was mighty simple, a heap more than ‘tis nowadays.

Wild pigeons used to have their roost near our place. I’ve seen them come in by the millions; they’d come in the fall and take the mast. They would fly low and in such dense flocks that you could kill them by throwing stones into the flocks. If you went into a pigeon roost at night it sounded worse than a thunder storm. I’ve seen trees a foot and a half through broken all to pieces by the weight of the pigeons. There were two roosts near the pineries. I’ve seen them fly over in the mornings till you couldn’t see the sun for them; it was like a heavy cloud passing over.

I’ve been to Springfield when it wasn’t as big as Branson is now. Old Peter and David Lehr had the first blacksmith shop in Springfield, I reckon, and we used to haul charcoal to Springfield and sell it to them. We hauled with ox teams, never used horses for freighting, and it took us about three days to make the trip there and back, as oxen travel very slowly. We burned a good deal of charcoal in early days. We would build up a pile of logs as big as a room, in the fall or winter, set fire to it, cover it with dirt and just let it burn. It would char out as pretty


as anything you ever saw. Ten to fifteen pounds would make a bushel, and we could haul about a hundred bushels at a load to Springfield.

There were ten boys in our family, and just believe me we were everyone boys, too, and every boy had three sisters — so we were a busy lot; if we weren’t into one mischief we were in another. We had two log houses, one twenty feet square and the other eighteen by eighteen, and we filled ‘em up pretty well, and kept dad and mother busy, I’ll tell you. Dad was a big fleshy man, weighed over two hundred. He was mighty good natured and we played lots of tricks on him. I recollect the time three of us boys were helping dad bind oats. It was hot, and there was a spring up in the woods a little distance, where the water was mighty cool; and we boys went up there for a drink. As we went we passed under a limb of a low tree and just missed a hornet’s nest. Pete went back to where dad was working and sweating — had his shirt bosom open, and mopping the sweat with his handkerchief — and dad says, "water cooler up there?" Pete says, "yes, mighty cool; and dad, take this trail right up through the brush, it’s nearer." Well, dad went, and pretty soon we see him coming back, the hornets swarming around him, and dad with his hat off slapping them. When we see him coming we just ran by him as fast as we could — never looked up, and dad never said a word to us then or ever afterwards.

There was a family named Ward with a big bunch of girls lived up near our place, and another named French lived down below us, and the two families of girls always were visiting back and forth. One time the Ward girls went to French’s to visit and stayed all night, and started home Sunday morning. They had to cross a big footlog across a stream that had about two feet of water in it. My brothers, Pete and Kit, always ran together and what one did not think of the other could. One of the girls was named Betts and all the rest of the young folks disliked her. So this Sunday morning Pete took the hand saw, and slipped out early and sawed that foot log almost in two; then he and the boys lay in the brush and watched for the girls. Betts was in front; she was pretty hefty and she picked up a pole to steady herself and started over. She took a few steps out on the log, and down it went, and Betts into the water. My, but Betts was mad, but she never owned up she was mad, and the boys never dared tell her they knew just how mad she was, ‘cause they’d have given themselves away. Betts never knew which one of us did that. You can see the time dad had with all of us.

I was about seventeen when the war broke out. Daddy and myself and three brothers were in the Union army all through the war. I was with Captain McCulloch a n d Captain Hartley, right in behind Price in his last raid. There was raiding back and forth on the border between Missouri and Arkansas all through the war, and people in these parts had hard times.

After the war we came to this county and bought one of the farms that is now the town of Branson, and paid about $600 for it. Our land lay from about where the pencil factory is along the White River to Roark, then up on Roark and around to about where the church now is. Our house was about where Robert Patterson’s now is, and we got water from the Big Elm Spring —the elm was only about ten inches through when mother began carrying water from it. That spring ought to be preserved by the town. It never goes dry, and if it were taken care of and cleaned out, there would be a pretty clear stream of Water running from it through the town all the time.

Everything was in timber around here then, not many settlers here, back forty years ago, and what there were settled along the creeks mostly, though sometimes a family would move back into the hills and make a little clearing and settle there.

Folks think they get a lot of fish now, but you should have seen the fish we had then. I remember one time that E. D. Hill bought a big seine, and took it down to Hensley’s. They took thirty-six barrels of fish at one draw, and shipped them to Springfield by freighters. The seine cost Hill $300, and he paid for it the first draw and made money besides. The water in White River was as clear as a clean glass bottle; you could see a minnow in ten feet of water. I’ve gigged many a time all night long. I’d fix up a big light — a pine torch really; we called it a jack light — and take a two-pronged steel gig, with a handle ten or twelve feet long, tied to a long line. I could throw the gig forty feet or more. We fished just for sport, had nothing else much to do. People talk about the fine fishing now, but it isn’t what it was years ago. Is used to be you could cross the river to that bluff they call Mount Branson now, along about three or four o’clock in the afternoon, when the sun was lighting up the shoals, and you could see buffalo fish coming up the river to feed. They looked like big black hogs in the water, and they left a string of mud behind them as they came rooting up the river. They weighed from thirty to fifty pounds, and some of them more than that. I used to run the ferry up near the mouth of Turkey Creek, and I recollect one Sunday that


Tom Berry, who was a good Campbellite, came down to the ferry. A good many were gigging that day. Tom said it wouldn’t do for him to fish on Sunday, but he got Bert Hawkin’s gig, and I took it and got three drumfish in just three minutes, one for each of us. Used to be lots of drumfish here; they are a big fish, one would last a family a week.

We used to make wolf drives, have one occasionally in some parts of this county. We’d get a crowd of men and a bunch of good dogs, and round up the wolves, usually shoot one or two in the start, then run the rest into a cave and shut them up.

There were lots of deer and a good many bears here, and I could make good money with my gun — have made as much as $18 a day with my gun. Down in the hills of Arkansas there was a big deer that folks had been trying to get for a long time. He was a mighty smart old fellow, and while one often found signs of him, he was seldom seen. We’d had a rain one night, and next morning I said to one of the boys, "Let’s get the old buck today." We started up a hollow and stalked it over. We had on moccasins and didn’t make much noise, and all at once I saw a big wolf rise up just ahead of us. I turned on my gun and got him, and at that another rose up, and I fired again and got him, too. It was hardly three breaths between shots, so I got them that morning instead of the old buck. But I got him finally. I started out another time purposely to hunt him, and found signs of him right away, but he was nowhere to be seen. I was down below the bluff and a bench just above me. Thinks I, "now he’s upon that bench." I crept along close to where I thought he was, and sure enough, up he jumped and started down a steep place, and I shot him as he went down. He was a fine fellow with a big head of horns.

I was raised up with as wild a gang as ever was, I reckon. People in those times didn’t care for much of anything that folks think they must have nowadays — just so they lived and had plenty of sport, they were satisfied. Dad enjoyed this life to the last, and it was a pretty good life after all. We didn’t have to worry about our living, it was all right at hand.

I never belonged to many organizations, not even the church. I always thought it was a man’s being honest and square that counted. Christ said just to follow him and do as he did; and in reading the Bible — and that’s about all I do read these days — I find he just went about doing good, healed the sick, and helped people in every way; and Christians could heal the sick today if they just did what Jesus told them. You see folks worship the Sabbath day, and the church, and anything most, except just following Jesus as he said to do — that’s my idea of it anyway, and as I read the Bible that’s the right idea.

Well, all’s changed here, and I reckon it is for the best or it wouldn’t be at all; but I long for the old times, the old familiar places, and the old friends, many and many a time.


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