Volume 2, Number 8 - Summer 1966


From Stories of the Pioneers
by E. J. and L. S. Hoenshel. 1915

One day, as we sat in our office, we noticed a big, sturdy, ruddy-faced man, of the type we have come to class as Tennessee mountaineers, shaking hands with old time Branson residents, and from the way they greeted him, we knew he must had been away a spell and just got home again." A mutual friend brought him into our office and introduced him as Mr. A. C. Hensley, now of Oklahoma, but formerly Uncle Gus Hensley of Taney County. And thus it happened that we were able to secure another pioneer story for the readers of the White River Leader. We have named this story "A Jolly Old Pedagogue".

"I was born in East Tennessee, and when I was fifteen years old we left Tennessee and emigrated to Missouri. We went to Dallas County first, and lived there all through the war. Those were terrible times, so terrible I don’t want to recall them or talk about them. The old hard feelings about the war have well nigh died out, and it well all be gone in another generation. So I won’t talk of the war.

"I came to Taney County in 1878. Everything was wild and most of the land still belonged to the government, very few sections having been entered at that time.

"The majority of the people when we came here did not work at all, but lived by fishing and hunting. They used wild fruits and such things. They usually cultivated a small patch of ground of four or five acres for garden, and for a little corn and a little wheat for meal and flour. Of course it was useless to cultivate more than enough for home use, for there was no market for products, and the woods furnished plenty of meat.


"We hauled our corn and wheat to the mills and waited for it to be ground. I used to drive a yoke of oxen to the mill. We went about every three or four months and it usually required about three days to make the trip. I used to go to Kissee Mills, sometimes to Ozark in Christian County. The wheat was usually tramped out, sometimes flailed, and there were lots of folks who saw white bread once a month. I remember the first threshing machine that was brought to this county; it belonged to old Judge Jennings. He and his son-inlaw, Williams, also owned the first reaper in the county, I ran that reaper. The first lumber mill was old Dr. Layton’s over in Pineries, and he used to haul lumber from there up to Springfield and get a load of groceries in exchange.

"I took my first land here at the mouth of Bull Creek, just below the ferry. Later, in 1879, I bought land two miles from the mouth of Bull Creek, and kept that as a home place until last June, when I sold it.

"When I first came to this county there were no schools. I began teaching in1879 and taught from one to three terms a year from there on for twenty-two years, with the exception of two years during that time. I farmed during the farming season, and taught during the balance of the year. I taught as many as seven terms in one district. I taught three terms in this school district, also was a teacher in the Bee Creek School, Cedar Creek, Kirbyville, and all the other districts around here, in fact. Lots of folks over the county have gone to school to me. All of the Rowland folks attended my school at some time or other, and many of the Olivers. Marion Ellison was one of my pupils, and so was Mrs. Henry Compton, Martha Boyd, Billy Hawkins’s oldest boys, Billy Cox’s wife; oh I could count up twenty-odd married couples I reckon that I’ve had in school". And while the pioneer teacher was telling his story, George May stoped at the door and said: "Yes, I used to go to school to you, too", and just then Mrs. Hillhouse came in and shook hands with the stalwart old pedagogue and said, "Do you know who this is Mr. Hensley? Why this is Ella, Ella Hillhouse, who went to school to you. "Yes", said Ella, "and I was so timid and afraid, and you always teased me." The ruddy face of this teacher of 70 gleamed with amused recollections, and he chuckled as he held out his hand to Ella, "Ya’as, I wanted to break you of that habit, Ella; you was awful quiet, and easily bothered, sure". And so it went on, the pupils and the teacher of years ago meeting and recalling the old days. Mr. Hensley now resumed his story, and said: "I helped build several school houses, most of them log, some frame, and I gave the land for the Flint School. I told them it would cost them nothing so long as it was used for school purposes.

"After I quit teaching I put in all of my time farming and with stock. I rode all over this -country and down into Northern Arkansas buying stock. I used to start out thinking I would be back in a few hours, or the next day at the farthest, and may be gone for days or a week even. The women would worry, of course, especially if it were bad weather, and I used to get many a deserved scolding for this uncertain way of doing. I finally told my folks never to look for me till I got back, and never worry, for a man that couldn’t take care of himself when out on a trip, wasn’t man enough to take care of a woman when he was at home. Finally they got so they looked for me when they saw me, and took it for granted I’d get back safe.

"Yes, I was here during the Bald Knobber days. I help talk it up, helped organize the band, and was the sixteenth man to join. I’ve never been ashamed of the band as it was originally organized, of anything they did or that I helped on with. The intention of the organization was for good—to put down crime and protect society. There had been about sixteen murders and not a conviction. Things were going in a bad way, and we made up our minds that law would be enforced if we had to do it ourselves. The original band was to have only 100 members, never more than that, and every man was to be a good citizen and a taxpayer, and as long as it was kept within these bounds it was a good order, and did good work for the community. The best men in the county were in it.

"We had some resolutions in the beginning; they were drawn up by a lawyer, J. J. Brown, who lived in Forsyth. Old Pat Fickle had the keeping of these. Bill Hensley, Tommy Yell and Everett were a committee to lay out work for us, and they finally demanded the resolutions and destroyed them. There was not a thing in them that was wrong, and it proved a mistake to destroy them, for if they had been preserved they would have been a written declaration of the reason and intention of the organization, and would have exonerated the band from any blame for any of the things that were done later on in the name of the Bald Knobbers.

"There were things done in the name of the band after it had disorganized, and many things were laid to them that were done by others so that the Bald Knobbers got a bad name that they did not deserve. We once met on the Big Bald over here by Kirbyville, and that gave us our name. We met in broad daylight, too; there was no hiding around about it; and several men were initiated into the order that day. John Haggard was one I remember who joined at that meeting.

"A committee was sent to Jefferson City, finally, to see the attorney general. Uncle Sam


Barger was one of these, and Tom Phillips; he was really the man that caused the attorney general to come down here, and our folks met him at Forsyth. I wasn’t at that meeting. I was driving a bunch of cattle up from Arkansas and didn’t get here in time. I’d have been there if I could have gotten there. The regular organization disbanded that day and never met again, but everything bad that happened for a good while was laid at the door of the Bald Knobbers, and they got a bad reputation that didn't belong to them all over the country. I recollect I once went to Bolivar, Missouri. I knew some folks there, and they mentioned that I was a Bald Knobber, and folks watched me, and acted as though they really expected I’d kill somebody or steal something before I got out of town. But folks are beginning to understand now that the original organization was of good men with good intentions, and the right idea of the band is coming to be realized.

"I was never much of a hunter or fisherman, though I’ve caught some fish, and there used to be big fellows here; and I’ve killed a few turkeys and a few deer, and there were lots of both of them here years ago. I recollect at one time Marion Casey (that’s Aunt Sis McKinney’s brother) and myself went out one night after turkeys. All at once we saw a big black creature in front of us, and Marion said ‘a bear!’ and just as he said it I let go the trigger and the bear took off through the woods, never made a bit of noise—a wounded bear never does—but we found crippled by the trail of blood he left. Well, a bear hurt as bad as that would just about get both of us, Marion said, so we decided to wait until morning and get a couple of dogs and go after him. Next morning we started early, and had no trouble trailing him, and we came to a big log nearly covered with earth, and we could see he had dragged over that. I ran forward and looked over that log, and nobody could ever know how I felt. There lay old Man Renshaws big old black sow. I would not have done that thing for any money. I started right off to find Renshaw, and found him in a store. I said, ‘Well I killed a bear last night.’ ‘You did’ said Renshaw. ‘Yes, leastways I killed what I thought was a bear, but when I went out to get it this morning, I found it had your mark on it. What’s that black sow worth, Renshaw? I want to pay for it’. I couldn't get a thing out of him. He kept chucklin’ like and finally said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you now, Hensley, I’d hate terribly bad myself to pay for a hog I’d shot accidently. You see I did that very trick myself some time back.’

"I had a good farm here, but I've been in Oklahoma for several years now; live at wood-ward, Oklahoma, and I'm going back home tomorrow. You send me that paper. I’ll keep up with things here that way.

"Do I like the new things that have come to this country? Well, yes, I was glad about the railroad, and the new people coming in, and better farming roads; but I ain’t reconciled yet to this dam, and White River being changed this way."


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