Volume 35, Number 2 - Fall 1995

Benjamin Taylor Stults
by Lenna White

Editor’s note: Our readers recall the recent series on Ben T. Stults’ diaries published in Fall 1990 through Winter 1992 issues. This biographical sketch provides additional background for one of our Chroniclers of White River history.

Benjamin Taylor Stults, son of George and Margaret Beard Stults, was born in Adair County, Kentucky, February 17, 1845. His mother died when he was two years of age and shortly thereafter his father moved the family to Macoupin County, Illinois. There, with his brothers, he learned to hunt prairie chickens and rabbits with his flintlock gun. Hunting became the greatest joy of his life and his skill in bringing down game became known throughout the Midwest.

In the iSSOs the family moved to Sadorus, Champaign County, Illinois. When not in school or helping his father in the blacksmith shop, most of his time was spent with his friends on the wide prairie hunting quail, prairie chickens, snipes, cranes, ducks, geese and pigeons. The wild fowl was so plentiful that when they were disturbed and would take flight, the sun would be blacked out.

With the coming of the Civil War, Benjamin was deferred to help raise food for his family, the community and the army. This was a very trying time for him. Although he was only in his teens, he wanted tojoin his three brothers who were in the army. At the end of the war and at age 21, he accompanied his father and three others on a trip to Missouri. When they returned to Illinois to move the family to Missouri he remained in Illinois for another two years managing the farm of Mr. Bill Sadorus.

In 1868 Benjamin again made the trip to Missouri to live with his father. The family was very happy to all be together and, to celebrate, his father declared the next day a holiday from work so that he could teach Benjamin a new kind of hunting. Early the next morning Benjamin, his father and his brothers started out to hunt. Much to Benjamin’s surprise they headed for Spring River [Jasper County] and here his father taught him to shoot fish under water. Later in the morning they moved on to look for wild game and Benjamin shot his first deer in Missouri.

At age 26 he decided it was time to put pleasure aside, go to work, get married, raise a family and establish himself in the community. He went to work in the lead mines in Minersville [founded in 1848 as Leadville Hollow, later Center Creek, Minersville, and finally Oronogo, Jasper County] and on December 25, 1870, he married Eleanor Elizabeth Teter at Columbus, Kansas. They lived in Minersville near his work. There Charles Gaston, Taylor and Nellie Jane were born. When the fourth child was born, both mother and infant died.

Soon after the death of his wife, Benjamin met a beautiful young lady, Alice Mandaney Hannah, who was visiting her sister, Sarah Smith, wife of Fred Smith in Minersville. A short time later Alice, together with her parents, George Newton Hannah (1815-1894) and Matilda Turner Hannah (1816-1898) and her brothers and sisters moved from Pierce City, Missouri, to Webb City, Missouri, just three miles from Minersville. George and Matilda Hannah were natives of Tennessee, George being the son of Samuel and Rhoda Patton Hannah and Matilda being the daughter of Mathias and Margaret Nesbitt Turner. George and Matilda opened a variety store in Webb City.

At age 17 Alice became the second bride of Benjamin on December 2, 1878. Benjamin’s three young children were timid and refused to call their new young stepmother by any name. Matilda, on noticing this, gathered the three small ones together and explained that Alice was now their new mother and if they would start calling her "maw" she would bring each of them a gift the next time she came to visit. A week later she arrived to find the children had accepted Alice as their new mother and were calling her "maw." She gave Charles and Taylor each a pair of suspenders and gave Nellie Jane a pair of garters. The children were very proud of their gifts and the close relationship continued the remainder of their lives.

Shortly after his marriage Benjamin’s health be-


gan to fail. He developed rheumatism and asthma from the mines. On August 26, 1879, the first child of the second marriage was born. She was named Fannie Belle. Benjamin’s health continued to decline until the doctor advised him to leave the area and find a place to live on top of the highest mountain in Missouri.

In September 1883 Benjamin, with his brother Henry and G. T. Cooley, started on a long hunting trip looking for a high mountain. They traveled by wagon for several days and when they came to the Wilderness Road in Stone County they stopped and set up camp for a few days to look for land. He found the highest mountain, the top of which was 1,450 feet above sea level and purchased 160 acres on top of this mountain from Lewis Daley. The land was covered with tall timber except for a small portion which had been cleared for crops. There was a house of hewn logs which was not in the best of repair. Now that the desired land had been purchased the hunters headed back home.

In making plans for the move, Benjamin knew his young wife would not be happy living in the wilderness without her family so he asked her father and mother, George and Matilda Hannah, to come and live with them. If they would, he agreed to take care of them for the remainder of their lives. To this they agreed and it was a happy arrangement for all.

When all appeared to be in readiness for the trip, George and Matilda decided to take their own team of horses and their surrey. In this rode George, Matilda, Alice and the three girls, Nellie, Belle and Ola, who was now two years old. The two boys, Charles and Taylor, rode in the lead wagon with their father. The lead wagon carried clothing, food, bedding and camping supplies. It also contained a bed for the children who needed naps and for Alice who was carrying her third child. The surrey followed the lead wagon and then came the other wagons with household furniture, supplies, farm implements and the many necessities to set up housekeeping in the wilderness. The trip covered 100 miles and took several days.

It being the last of November 1883 the weather was very cold with freezing rain when they arrived at their new home in Stone County. All hurried inside the log house and made a big fire in the fireplace to get the children warm. Because the chimney was made of sticks and mud it soon caught fire and the women cried when they realized they had to live in such a house. Benjamin promised to build a new stone fireplace and to make immediate repairs to the house. He started hauling stones the next morning and two weeks later the new fireplace was completed. Soon the house was in good repair and Benjamin could again hunt until winter was over.

All the family learned to love the hill country. At the time oftheir arrival the nearest place to vote was 14 miles distant, the nearest post office and store was ten miles and the nearest neighbor was six miles. The children had to go three miles to school.

Benjamin began work to get the country divided into another township and within a short time was able to obtain a new mail route within two miles of his house and a new school for the children just three hundred yards from their home. As time went by and the wilderness was more settled, Benjamin became a leader in the community and served as Justice of the Peace. Alice died in childbirth on July 20, 1897, at the birth of her eighth child, Faunie.

Benjamin was again without a mother for his eleven children. He soon changed this when in 1898 he married a young widow, Hettie Jane Garber Hines. She had two children, LeRoy Hines (1887-1944), and Cosgrove Hines, now living in Colorado. Hettie was a very remarkable young lady who loved the wilderness. She was a true pioneer and leader. In later years Hettie would travel any distance day or night to help a neighbor who was ill. To this union was born Jessie Richard.

Not long after this marriage, Benjamin realized he could leave the running to the farm to Hettie and he went into the lumber business. In time they built a new twelve room home close to the old log house. The two were connected by a walkway and they continued to use the old house along with the new as much space was needed for the family, the guests and for the hired hands. When the railroad was extended into the area the new station at Ruth, Missouri, was just two miles from their home. With the coming of the railroad the countryside was soon settled. Benjamin and Hettie contributed to establishing the new town by opening a general store and a funeral home. Soon all the wild game had been killed by the new settlers. Benjamin missed the taste of venison and started raising goats so that he could have goat meat on the table at all times as the taste and texture was more like wild game.

In later years, as long as his health permitted, he enjoyed hunting, riding to the hounds, playing his fiddle and visiting with his many friends and relatives. Benjamin lived a happy, prosperous and productive life and died at age 85 [1930]. His widow, Hettie, continued to live in the home place until her death in 1950. Benjamin and Hettie are both buried in the Eisenhour Cemetery.


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