Volume 5, Number 10 - Winter 1975-76

by Marybelle Pruett

In the spring of 1879 Charles H. Cobb traveled with his wife, Laura, and their four children from the State of Illinois to the Missouri Ozarks to establish a new home.

Charles was thirty-three at the time, and since the family record does not give the birth date of Laura her age cannot be determined, but it is the opinion of her grandchildren that she was five years younger than her husband. If this is correct, she would have been twenty-eight. The oldest child, Leona, was ten, David, nine, John, seven and Mary, three.

The trip was made in an ox-drawn covered wagon, and required several weeks. John, (my father-in-law) told me many times of the tiresome journey and the many hardships encountered. They battled wind and rain for days in succession. Often the wagon sank in mud to the hub of the wheel. When this happened, ten-year-old Leona was instructed to drive the oxen and all the others who were big enough "got out and pushed," until the wagon was again on solid ground. When the rain stopped and the mud dried, the wind whipped dust around them in clouds until they could scarcely breathe. Bedtime meant a bath in the big wash tub so they could sleep comfortably.

In spite of all this they arrived at their destination, well, and in high spirits, anxious to begin work on their new home.

Charles and Laura homesteaded one-hundred and sixty acres one and one-half miles off what is now Missouri State Highway 86 on MM Highway.

There were no improvements or fences on the property, so the family camped out of doors, on the hill overlooking the present homesite. Their only protection from the elements was a crude shelter made by setting. poles in the ground, tee-pee fashion and covered with cedar boughs. The covered wagon was the children’s "bedroom" and their parents slept on the ground. Their food was cooked on an open campfire. When there was indication of rain, Laura prepared enough food for several meals. This was assurance her family would not go hungry in case "there should be a long rainy spell", to quote John’s own words.

Judging from what John and his sister, Leona, told me about those days, the Ozarks were somewhat of a jungle. Panther, bear, and wolves roamed the hills, not to mention the smaller animals; and diamond-back rattlesnakes were common. A log-heap was kept burning all night to keep wild animals away from camp.

Streams furnished plenty of fish and turtle, wild fruit grew in abundance, so there was no shortage of food.

All hand did their "bit" toward building the new home. They cut and hewed logs and built a three-room house, with a stone fireplace, a log barn, and chicken house. Rock picked off the land was used for the fireplace and to build a large portion of the fence. (This rock fence still stands). Land was cleared of trees and underbrush to be used for farming land and pasture. Rails were split to fence the property where rocks were not used.

The house was the first to be completed. The family slept under it’s clap-board roof before Jack Frost paid his first visit to the hills that fall. This house still stands and until a short time ago it was occupied. It has been remodeled and changed so much it scarcely resembles the original, but to those of us who know the history behind it, it stands as a monument of love, hard work, patience, and fiath in God, plus confidence in their own ability to accomplish what (to many) would seem impossible.

Roads were no better than cow-trails. A trip to Forsyth, (a distance of about six miles) and return, was an all day’s journey.

John and Leona have told me many interesting stories about those long-ago days. I never grew tired of listening, even if I had heard the same story several times before.

Their parents raised sheep as well as cattle and hogs, and of course, chicken and turkeys. Their mother carded the wool and spun it into yarn, then wove it into cloth for their clothing and blankets. She made all their clothing, including her husband’s and the boys’ trousers, and coats for the entire family. They also raised cotton and flax. This was


woven into cloth for sheets, pillow cases, and other necessities for which woolen cloth was unsuitable.

They butchered a beef every winter, plus several head of hogs. The meat was "salted down" and let lay for several days, then hung in the smokehouse and smoked with corn-cobs and hickory wood. (Anyone who has never eaten pork cured in this manner have simply never eaten pork!)

They made sausage and head cheese; the waste grease and meat scraps were saved to make soap. Lye for making soap was made by pouring water through wood ashes. Almost every backyard had what was called an "ash-hopper." This was a wooden contraption, set on short legs, and looking at it endwise it was shaped like the letter V. It was about eight or ten feet long, four or five feet wide at the top, with a few holes in the bottom to allow the lye to drain out. Ashes from the fireplace were dumped into the hopper every time the fireplace was cleaned out, and carefully covered to keep them dry until "soap-making time", usually in the spring. A few days before this job was planned, the ash-hopper was uncovered, containers set underneath to catch the lye and pail after pail of water poured in a "trench" scooped out in the center of the ashes. As the containers filled, the lye was poured into a wooden barrel, kept covered until there was enough to make the soap. At this time two big cast-iron wash kettles were filled with the lye, the meat scraps and waste grease added, and this mixture boiled and boiled until it became a thick brown jelly. Then it was poured into the barrel that had been used for the lye. When more soap was needed, it was dipped out with a long-handled dipper. This was called "soft soap" and even though it didn’t have the pleasant aroma of the detergents we use today, it certainly got the dirt!

This same lye was used to make hominy from the white corn they raised on their rocky farm. Only the choice corn would do for this. The lye was diluted, two-thirds lye, one-third water. The shelled corn was poured into this mixture and boiled until the outside "skin" could be removed by washing. Then it was washed through several waters, returned to the fire and cooked until tender. Twelve or fifteen ears of corn prepared in this way would make enough hominy to last a large family an entire winter.

Tallow from the beef and mutton was used for making candles. These served the purpose for light until they finally got kerosene lamps. They raised corn and wheat for bread, canned and dried vegetables, planted fruit trees and berries.

John has told me many times how his mother used to sit at the spinning wheel or loom until midnight, then up the next morning at break of day ready for another day’s work. He also told me he was sixteen years old when his mother got her first cook stove. Until this time, cooking was done in the fireplace.

She got her first sewing machine the same year. Before that, all their garments were made by hand.

It goes without saying, horses were a "must"


in those days. Laura owned a big satiny black stallion, she called Ebony, and a side saddle with a red velvet seat.

One night her husband had to be away from home over night. John could not remember what the reason was for his father being gone over night, even though he was ten years old at the time.

It was fall of the year, nights were cool and a bright fire burned in the fireplace. The younger children were in bed, the baby in it’s cradle and the three older children were gathered at the fireside popping com. Laura was busy at the loom. Suddenly Ebony’s squeals pierced the air, followed by the sound of frailing hooves, and a man’s voice yelling curse words.

Whispering to the children to be quiet, Laura opened the door slightly and peeped out. In the faint light of the moon she could see three men trying to lead Ebony out of the barnyard. The big horse was rearing and pawing for all he was worth, and as a last resort he sank his teeth into the shoulder of the man who had hold of the halter rope. To be sure, the theives gave up the struggle, left the barnyard without the courtesy of closing the gate and headed for their horses, which they had tied to the fence a short distance down the road. Ebony trotted back into his stall, the halter rope trailing behind him.

They had to pass the house on their way back to their horses and Laura was at the yard gate when they passed, with Charles’ muzzle-loader in her hand.


She recognized th men, called them by name and informed them, "You tried to steal my horse tonight, and I’ll see you spend tomorrow night in the county jail!’’

It was no idle threat. The next morning as soon as the work was done she went to the barn and saddled Ebony. She climbed up on a high stump that stood by the barnyard gate and swung herself into the saddle. The big stallion reared on his hind feet and walked that way all the way to the road, a distance of about fifty or seventy-five yards. The plucky little woman sat there as straight as an arrow.

It has been fifty years since John told me this story and he has been gone from the scene more than forty years, but I will never forget the light in his eyes and the pride in his voice when I asked, "Didn’t that scare you Kids?"

"Why, no sir-ee," he replied, "Ma could ride with the best of ‘em!"

When her husband returned, the children told him about the men trying to steal the horse. With concern he asked, "What did you do, Laura?"

"Not what you would have done, or I miss my guess," was her quick reply, as though things of this nature happened every day, and with no emotion. "They are now locked in the County Jail".

Her husband smiled, shook his head and turned and walked away. Laura never mentioned the incident again.

Another story John liked to tell was how his father would gather the family around the big table after the day’s work was done and read to them from the big family Bible. This Bible is today in possession of Charles and Laura’s youngest granddaughter, Lucile (Cobb) Meredith, of Cedar Creek.

More children were added to the family circle until there were ten. Four sons and six daughters. One daughter died at eight months of age, the other nine lived to marry and only one failed to raise a family. So there are still many of Charles and Laura’s decendents in "These here hills".

This story, so far, may lead the reader to believe life was all work and no play in those long-ago days, but such was not the case. John and Leona have told me many things about the other side of the picture and I feel they should be mentioned.

Every Sunday morning found the family at the little log school house about a half mile from their home for church services. This school was known as Lone Elm, so named because of a single elm tree that grew on the playground. In later years a better school was built on top the hill overlooking the spot where the log school stood. This school is known

as Mount Olive and still stands. The building is in good condition, tho’ it isn’t used for school anymore. They also told me about a man who walked two miles BAREFOOT every Sunday morning with his Bible under his arm, to attend church services in the little log school house. Someone made a remark about this one day and the man heard it. Very sincerely he replied, ‘God doesn’t care whether we wear shoes or not, just so we walk the right path!"

The truth was, the man had no shoes, but he did have a sincere desire to serve God. It would be hard to imagine anyone being that hungry for Righteousness these days!

Another story they told me was about the many picnics they attended at various places. Leona said her "Pa" took her to a picnic at the old Pleasant Hill School house when she was twelve. This school house was located about a quarter of a mile east of where the Pleasant Hill (School) Church now stands. Miss Cleo Embrey’s house is located on the exact spot, according to Leona. It was also a log building. The seats were logs, according to Leona. The seats were logs, split up the center and mounted on legs. They had no back. The teacher’s desk was built the same way. There were no desks for the pupils. They had no blackboard, and their only writing material was a slate. The building had no windows— only shutters.

Many "Old-timers" have lived all their lives in this neighborhood and don’t know where this school first stood. The only reason I can tell it is, because I spent hours unending listening to these interesting stories, told by two wonderful people who were "There" and storing them away in my memory.

Another picnic story John told me was about one held at what was known as the Cold Spring. This was up Swan Creek from Old Forsyth townsite about a mile. It was across the road and down over the creek bank from what, in later years, was known as the Judge Burns Farm. I believe it was owned by a Gibson before that. It now belongs to Judge Bums’ grandson, Theron Holland. The old house is gone and the Cold Spring has been covered by waters of Swan Creek since the dam was built that forms Bull Shoals Lake.

This spring flowed from under a rock ledge, crystal clear and ice cold. There were acres of level ground, plenty of shade, and Swan Creek provided a wonderful place to swim. An ideal spot for a picnic!

The Cobb family were up early, as usual, the chores and housework done in short order, a big


basket was packed with food and covered with a linen table cloth. Hay was spread in the wagonbox for the children to ride on; and they were on their way.

A six or seven mile trip by wagon "Took Time", but they were among the first to arrive. Everything went smoothly enough until after the noon meal was eaten. Then the excitement started!

Frank and Jesse James, with two more of their "gang" were there. A well-dressed man, a total stranger to anyone present, kept following the James gang from place to place. This continued for some time and finally Jesse ordered the stranger to stop following them and mind his own business. However, the stranger "paid them no mind".

Charles and Laura had taken their children to the spring for a drink. Charles was dipping the water, handing it to his wife who in turn was giving each child a drink. Suddenly a shot rang out, followed by another and another in rapid succession.

When the first shot was fired, Charles had at that instant stooped over to refill the dipper. The bullet went wild, missing his head by inches and striking the rock at the back of the spring. A large piece of the rock was blown away, and this remained the same in appearance until the spring was covered by waters of Swan Creek Arm of Bull Shoals Lake.

Another historical land mark destroyed.

When it was all over the stranger lay dead only a few feet from where the Cobb family were gathered. All efforts to establish his identity proved fruitless and the next morning citizens of Forsyth buried him. His remains rest in an unmarked grave in the Snapp Cemetery, across Bull Shoals Lake from Old Forsyth townsite.

A court trial followed in which many who were present at the picnic were witnesses, among them Charles and Laura. Since there was no definate proof who fired the fatal shot and the fact was established the stranger started the trouble, the James boys went free.

"Another notch on Jesse’s gun barrel," John stated, convincingly. He was sure in his mind it was the bullet from Jesse’ gun that "took care of the stranger!"

Anyone familiar with the history of Jesse James’ Personal life will remember his wife’s maiden name was Zerelda Cobb. (She was called Zee). John and Leona told me her father was a brother of their father (Charles H.) John said he, with his brothers and sisters, had played many an hour with Zee under the shade of a big Box Elder tree in his parent’s front yard. (This tree still stands). Zee’s parents visited in their home many times, though they didn’t live in the immediate neighborhood.

A friend of mine once told me, (when I told him this story) that many, many people would like to claim "Kin" to Jesse James. No doubt this is true, but I knew John and Leona well enough to know they wouldn’t lie, even if they were in danger of being shot for telling the truth! Leona’s education was limited, and John had none at all---: Could neither read or write. Neither of them ever saw a movie in their life, so it’s a fact they couldn’t have "Made it up" even if they had wanted to! At any rate, they didn’t hold Jesse James in high esteem, and did not claim "Kin" to him. Only his wife.

I would now like to give the family record of Charles and Laura’s descendants, (children and grandchildren). Most of this story is written from memory of the stories told to me by two wonderful people who lived it. I would like to say, "Thanks", to Viola, (Mrs. Chester Edwards) the wife of a grandson of Charles H. and Laura Cobb, for obtaining the family record for me, from the Family Bible. Viola lives in Valley Springs, California, but


obtained the record for me while in Taney County on vacation.

I also extend thanks to a grandson, John H. Crouch, of Forsyth and his sister, eighty-seven-year old, Bertha Brittian, of Kirbyville, and a great-granddaughter, Edna Jennings. Their help and encouragement is deeply appreciated.

There are many, many more descendants of this pioneer couple than are listed here, and I am acquainted with most of them, but that will have to wait for another story.

Charles H. Cobb, Born May 17, 1846 State of Illinois
Died March 1, 1921
Mildred, Missouri
Married Laura Jones, Feb. 18, 1867 State of Illinois
Birthdate unknown.
Died Jan. 29, 1920
Mildred, Missouri
Their Children


Born July 22, 1869

State of Illinois


Born Sept. 21, 1870

State of Illinois


Born Aug. 7, 1872

State of Illinois


Born Aug. 12, 1876

State of Illinois


Born Sept. 9, 1879

Mildred, Mo.

Permilia Ann,

Born July 8, 1883

Mildred, Mo.


Born Aug. 17,1885

Mildred, Mo.


Born Dec. 29, 1887

Mildred, Mo.


Born Dec. 24, 1889

Mildred, Mo.

Dollie Belle,

Born Jan. 8, 1892

Mildred, Mo.


This volume: Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues

Other Volumes | Keyword Search | White River Valley Quarterly Home | Local History Home

Copyright © White River Valley Historical Quarterly

 Springfield-Greene County Library