Volume 5, Number 12 - Summer 1976

Private Development 1836 to 1929 At Roaring River State Park
by Senator Emory Melton

The name or names of the owners of the first mill constructed at the Roaring River spring about 1836 have been lost in antiquity but since that time there have been many efforts to develop the picturesque setting by individuals prior to the time the property was deeded to the state of Missouri for a state park in December of 1928.

In an address prepared for an 1876 centennial celebration in Cassville, one of Barry County’s pioneers, Henry McCary, made note of some of the early settlements in the county.

McCary, who arrived here in the fall of 1836, just one year after Barry County was formed, recalled that he found but scattered and thinly settled neighboring communities in different parts of the county. At that time there was but one post office in the county, called Mount Pleasant, the then county seat of Barry County, between twenty or thirty miles northwest of where it is now situated. A small tub mill on the head of Roaring River, near where the Trim and McClure mill now is, and another on Flat Creek, twelve miles north of where Cassville is now situated; another at the falls of Shoal Creek, and a small mill, kept by William Pogue, on Pogue’s Creek, near where Mr. Swindle now lives."

In 1848 Mr. Thomas Ruble homesteaded the land on which the tub mill at Roaring River was located, the records showing that 80 acres of this land were purchased from the Government by Mr. Ruble for the total sum of $100.

A "tub" mill was particularly suited to the situation at the Roaring River spring because such a mill did not depend on a dam to furnish power, It could be operated by a swiftly moving stream or water coming into the "tub" area by means of flume. The power came from a crude turbine arrangement with a small rotor about three and one-half feet in diameter. It was located in a shallow "tub" into which the water poured from a flume or a natural fall. There was no gearing in the mill since the turbine turned the lower millstone directly by means of a shaft which ran through the upper stone without touching it. It was a rather primitive arrangement, but it worked well.

By 1845 there had been a marked increase in immigrants into Barry County and the county seat was being moved in June of that year from McDonald (McDowell) to a new place which would be called "Cassville."

It was also the same year that Robert B. Perkins and E. Mackinson decided to build a first class grist and flour mill near the Roaring River spring.

To be sure of the agreement, they entered into a written contract with a millwright named J. W. 0. Haver. The agreement read:

‘Build and complete the millwright and mechanical work of one grist or flouring mill with grasing to run two pair of runners or millstones together With Smist mill and fan and screen with elevator for cleaning wheat, one bolting chest large enough for 2 bolts all to be done according to the best arranged plan for making superfine flour in the ordinary way, a sufficient packing press for packing flour, a sufficient number of windows and door frames all to be done in a suitable convenient and plain workmanlike manner with crane stocks for raising mill stones; one scale beam, and one casstion wheel for drawing logs into the saw mill, all to be done in a workmanlike manner. All to be done as soon as practicable and said J. W. 0. Mayer not to leave until said mills are completed unless for want of materials."

Bill Cameron, veteran Exeter mill and supply operator, who is now retired and living at the School of the Ozarks, defined for us some of the terms used in the agreement. A "smist mill’ is an air cleaning device; "balting chest" is a grading device; "packing press" is used to pack flour sacks, screw pressure on contacts of sack; and a "crane stock" is a small hoist to lift the mill stone.

Although the mill was built and in operation long before October 5,1848, and It had been sold to Thomas Ruble, it was then that Ruble purchased the land, on which the spring and mill were located, from the federal government.

In 1853 Ruble sold the land and mill to Barton B. Clements who continued operations until the Civil War started in 1861. We can only speculate as to why Clements sold the property in 1861, but contemporary writings Indicate that the milling business was a particularly dangerous business during the war. This was due to foraging parties from not only the Union and Confederate armies, but from the "bushwackers" as well,. Many mills were burned or otherwise destroyed In the Ozarks area to keep them from falling into the hands of the adversary, whoever that might have been at the moment.

Mr. Clements-sold in 1861 to Josiah T. Keet, a native Englishman who was store-keeper at Keetsville (now Washburn) and William McClure.

McClure, who was born In 1819 in Green County, Tennessee, had come to Barry County In 1840 to reside with his widowed mother on a farm near Washburn. In 1846 he married and moved to Washburn where he became a partner with Keet in the mercantile business. In 1847 they opened a branch store in Cassville and McClure took charge of it. In beneath the ridge and re-appears as Roaring River. In early times this spring issued from the mountain side 100 feet higher up."

1850 he sold his interest to his partner and opened a new store in Washburn, where he continued in business until he was elected sheriff of Barry County in 1860. At the beginning of the Civil War in April of 1861, he was engaged in buying and driving horses to Louisiana as a side venture from the sheriff’s office, but abandoned this enterprise with a heavy monetary loss due to the war.

In the latter part of the year of 1861 he and Keet again became partners when they purchased the mill at. Roaring River from Clements. Clements accurately foresaw the difficult days the war would bring, since the mill built in 1845 was completely destroyed during the war.

As soon as the war ended in 1865, immediate plans were made to rebuild the mill, which was completed in 1866.

The second mill was located at the end of the mill race now the site of the park lodge.

All during this time McClure lived on the farm near Washburn, but in 1869 he rented the farm and moved to the Roaring River spring site and personally operated the mill until 1880 when he returned to the farm.

In 1871, Keet was preparing to move all his interests to Springfield where he was one of the top figures in business for many years. He was a partner there in the Keet-Rountree Wholesale business. It was at this time that Keet


credited to Louis W. Curtiss, noted architect and Bruner was his own construction man and the house has a strong imprint of his personality. It cost $25,000 to build.

Bruner’s life was a roller coaster of wins and losses. He made and lost several fortunes. He lost Mineral Hall scarcely more than three years after the family occupied it in 1905.

At Roaring River he made improvements, offered a few lots and cabins for sale and in 1910 stocked the river with trout from a hatchery he built. He later sold an interest to F. J. Bannister, president of Long-Bell Lumber Company, who also made a few improvements, but the partnership did not go well. On April 19, 1922, it was mortgaged to a Kansas City firm, and in 1928, about 2,400 acres of the land were offered in a foreclosure sale on the courthouse steps in Oassville. At that time, the property included a saw mill, Hydro-electric plant, electric laundry, refrigerating plant, ice plant, and Roaring River Camps and Hotel.

Bruner’s losses were heavy, the Great Depression was at hand, and he was no longer a young man. He never recouped. He died in 1940.

He had lived in times when the sky was the limit—but sometimes that sky could fall.

But, as Roaring River was a dream for one unusual man.. .so it now came into the hands of another.

The buyer of that 2,400 acre Roaring River development sold on the courthouse steps in 1928 was Dr. Thomas M. Sayman, a St. Louis soap manufacturer.

The purchase price was $105,000. He turned it over to the State of Missouri for a park and Roaring River State Park came into being. An oft told story, locally, and uridocumented, says that Dr. Sayman did not buy the property with the intention of giving it to the state, but instead looked forward to owning the beautiful spot. However, his first attempt at trout fishing there was such a dismal failure, that insensed, he deeded the land to the state.

At any rate, it was a very generous gift, and one that will be long remembered. He will be remembered too for his eccentricities. For he became a king of legend, always good newspaper copy, as he lived his life with an almost theatrical flair. And he seemingly enjoyed every moment of the limelight. As a "character" of his age, he had no peer. Sayman was not a physician but he had no qualms about being addressed as "Doc." He often expressed his intention to live to celebrate his 125th birthday; and as he seemed to accomplish everything he set out to do, few people who knew him doubted that he would do just that. As it turned out, this one time sheer determination wasn’t enough, and he died quietly in his sleep at the age of 84. But they were 84 years enjoyed to their fullest by a man who lived every day of his life just the way he wished.

When only nine years old, Sayman left his Indiana farm, barefooted and overalled, to seek his fortune. When a passerby saw him gazing wistfully in the window of a clothing store at a suit of clothes, and learned that he had left home to make his own way, he bought him the suit. And with the suit gave the boy the advice that he later credited with his success. "Whenever in doubt about anything, consult a businessman."

At ten, the boy became a member of the circus troupe. At 11 he organized his own medicine show, complete with wagon pulled by his faithful horse Dolly. He beseeched audiences to step closer, please, to buy the soaps, salves, and tonics he peddled with a real flair for showmanship. And he prospered.

Traveling through Texas in the years to follow he discovered herbs and came to believe highly in their medicinal value. He claimed to have discovered a secret formula here which he took to Carthage where he set up his first laboratory and office. About 1900 he moved his office to St. Louis and the money continued to roll in. He began to shock staid old St. Louis with his eccentricities and he started to appear frequently in St. Louis courts, usually as the defendant. Most of his 50 some bouts with the police and courts were as a result of his love for flourishing a pistol, and frequently his gun-toting privileges were revoked. But he always triumphed and his pistol was returned.

While he was always represented by counsel, Sayman usually took charge of the courtroom himself. He heckled opposing witnesses, gave loud commands to his lawyers, preached to spectators, and generally demoralized the dignity of the law courts where he appeared.

When 80 years old, and charged with pointing a threatening pistol, he jumped to his feet, shouting that he hadn’t pointed a pistol at all, but instead had waved it—and proceeded to do just that with a gun he drew from his coat Witnesses, spectators, and lawyers alike scurried for cover. And he enjoyed the whole show.

One of the very few legal battles he lost involved a federal charge of misrepresenting three products. He paid his $1000 fine in $1 and $2 bills, and pulled them from a roll one by one. He believed in getting his money’s worth.

He lived well, and anything he took a fancy to he had immediately and in large quantities. He confessed to owning 14 cars. When he developed an enthusiasm for Turkish baths, neighbors thought he must be putting in a public bathhouse. In a fancy for birds, he put out wheat shocks in one of St. Louis’ most fashionable suburbs to make the feathered creatures feel at home. On his farm he spent several thousand dollars on duck ponds. His weakness for oriental rugs kept the St. Louis market on the upturn for years. Once when he discovered a sick calf at his farm, he promptly loaded it in his limousine, drove to the nearest drug store, demanded medicine mixed at the soda fountain, and curb service for the ailing animal.

One of his sources of pride was his hard head. And he frequently challenged anyone present to "butt heads." There were few takers, but once a young husky Negro decided to test his prowess. The pair squared off, charged and the Negro went down in a heap. Sayman walked away thumping his head with his cane to demonstrate its sturdiness.

When Dolly, the faithful horse, died, Sayman had the skin stuffed and mounted in his office.

Sayman donated large amounts to charities, and gained the unswerving loyalty of his employees, both by his generosity and his understanding and interest in their personal problems.

Thomas M. Sayman’s colorful career came to an end with his death in September, 1937. He had made a fortune manufacturing soap and patent medicine and left his family several million dollars. And every resident of this state owes him a debt of gratitude for his gift of Roaring River. A large statue of Dr. Sayman stands in Roaring River State Park.

Roaring River may have defied private development, but it has been immeasurably successful as a state park. Thousands upon thousands of visitors to the park each year enjoy the beautiful setting, and through the years it has become the most popular park in the state, and indeed in this entire region.


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