Volume 5, Number 8 - Summer 1975

William Riley Adams
by Emmett Adams

William Riley Adams was born January 11, 1866 in Letcher County, Kentucky to Mr. and Mrs. Moses Adams. This family resided on a rough, hillside farm near Whitesburgh, county seat of Letcher County. Moses Adams was a small-time farmer who kept his family clothed and fed by tending a large truck patch, keeping cows to supply dairy products, butchering and curing his own meat, canning, drying and storing, making much of their clothing and accepting an occasional day’s labor in the community.

Mr. Adams came to be known as W. R. Adams in the business world, Riley to neighbors, and Uncle Riley by many close friends. No attempts have been made to run down the family tree of Riley Adams, but Jeems Adams, of Wise, Virginia, has stated that the Adamses go, or are known, by sets such as the Old John Set, the Old Moses Set, the Jelico Set, etc. Jeems also has information in his possession indicating that a James Adams came to the United States from England in 1630 and settled on the eastern seaboard. Dorothy


(Amburgey) Griffity, St. Louis, Missouri, a descendant of a Jesse Adams, finds circumstantial evidence by using the 1850 and 1880 Letcher county censuses, that there was a Moses Adams born in 1775 and buried in Letcher County, Kentucky, a Moses Adams born in 1812 in Kentucky, and a Moses Adams born in 1838 in Kentucky, whose father was Isaac. This latter Moses was the father of Spencer, Sarah, William R, Nancy, Isaac, Clarinda, and Joseph. There should have been a John Quincy, but he was the youngest member of the family and would have been born after 1880. In view of the fact that in the old Moses Set there were three names Moses, two Spencers, two Williams, and three named Nancy, it seems reasonable to speculate, at least, that the William Riley Adams being written about here is the Old Moses Set.

There is very little information regarding the early childhood of Mr. Adams. It is known that he was a pupil for a part of two terms in a rural school with Doc Taylor (Red Fox in the Trail of the Lonesome Pine, a novel by John Fox, Jr.) as teacher. Ninety-seven year old Preston Blair remembers that his father, John Blair, taught Riley his letters and had him as a pupil later in school. Surely sometime later Riley must have attended normal school. He was an outstanding scribe, could solve every example in the old arithmetic, was well versed in English language and literature, and was a good speaker.

Mr. Adams was issued a teacher’s certificate to teach school at the age of 16 years, but declined the offer. Due to lack of information, we are unable to fill the gap from 1882 to 1890 except that Riley was married in 1884 to Susan Day, the daughter of a General Baptist minister, Elder Henry Day, and his wife Mary; however, we do have reason to believe that he probably was learning the printer’s trade. Records show that Riley was appointed postmaster at Whitesburgh, Kentucky, May 15, 1890. During the middle 1880’s to the early 1900’s


there occurred a great exodus from eastern Kentucky to Southwest Missouri. Among the group in the winter of 1892 was the family of Riley Adams, consisting of Mr. & Mrs. Adams and three sons, Charles Sherman, William Harrison, and Arthur Moses, a babe in arms. The oldest son, Charles Sherman, now 87 and living in Spokane, Washington, remembers that the family rode two days on horseback to Big Stone Gap to catch the train. In due time they reached Sparta, Christian County, Missouri where Mr. Adams found employment with a publishing company which did job-printing in addition to publishing a weekly newspaper.

During the time that the Adamses were living in Sparta, W. R. was busy planning to prove up on a 160 acre homestead south of Bradleyville in Taney County, and he was also seeking the postmastership at Goodloe to which he was appointed February 1, 1894. Like practically every other settler in the Goodloe community, Riley constructed a two story log house with an entry, breezeway, or dogtrot if you wish, and a full house-length front porch but no fireplace. For a time there was an outside kitchen. Very soon after moving into the new home the Adams Job Printing and Adams Photo Shop were established. This necessitated enclosing the porch and dogtrot. The end of the porch housed the post office, the west side the print shop and the dogtrot area the photo equipment, including the darkroom. This left a living room-bedroom combination, plus a kitchen-dining room combination on the first floor and two bedrooms upstairs.

People came to the Adams’ home to have pictures made and Riley made house calls for the same purpose. He also attended country picnics and stayed two and three days to make photos. Riley was also active in the Adams and Stottle Real Estate and Insurance Company located in Bradleyville.

Mr. Adams was a Notary Public and did most of the work in the community concerning legal matters. He also served as secretary for a number of organizations in the area. A felt need for a school developed in the immediate area, at which time Riley agreed to teach the school, if the patrons would erect a building. A log building with a puncheon floor and rough seats was soon completed and the first term of school was in session. This even occurred before the Kentucky Hollow School District was established.

In 1897 Mr. Adams was elected as surveyor of Taney County serving in that capacity until 1905, when he was admitted to the Bar, and set up an office in Forsyth where he practiced law and opened the Adams Abstract Company, which he maintained until his death. In the meantime Mr. Adams served Taney County as Prosecuting Attorney ten years and as Highway Engineer for eight years. For several years it was necessary for him to board in Forsyth, coming home on the average of twice per month. This Riley had to do on foot, horseback and by riding and tying. With the help of the older children and a minimum of hired help the Job Printing and Photo Shop were continued in the home.

Amidst all the above activities Riley found time to set and grow one of the finest apple orchards in the country. Equal to the orchard was the truck-patch. At this point in time the number of children had reached eight. Canning, drying, curing, preserving and holing-up was a must. There was always an ash hopper at one end of the house for the purpose of tanning groundhog and squirrel hides for shoe strings. Mr. Adams could also do a good job


mending shoes on the standard and lasts. Mother had a spinning wheel and made several pieces of clothing.

In 1908 the family moved to Forsyth where they lived for two years, moving back to the farm in 1910. During the stay in Forsyth the mother and some of the children would go back to the farm for canning, drying, and storing of food. The last child, John Quincy, was born at the farm in July, 1910. In the winter of 1912 Mr. Adams moved his family back to Forsyth where they remained.

By this time Riley Adams was a household word. In surveying, holding court, campaigning, attending church, and speaking he no doubt visited, ate, and spent the night in more homes in Taney county than any person before or since. Mr. Adams had little time for hobbies. He did read a great deal, enjoyed talking, enjoyed good music, in spite of the fact he could not sing at all and couldn’t whistle. W. R. could talk loud and long when pleading a case before the jury. Riley couldn’t tolerate milk in any form, but used butter in excess, drank water at all times, except ginger tea on occasion, sassafras tea for spring tonic, and never used tobacco or liquor at any time in his life. He used sugar over raw tomatoes and on his navy beans. To him food on the table was not sufficient, if there was no fruit and fresh vegetables.

Riley had a great power of concentration. He could type a letter and talk to a client at the same time and not lose his train of thought. He was never known to bend to pressure, and could not be made to hurry. Some people were faster in completing their work, but few more accurate. Surveyors today move on with full confidence when they find a corner that W. R. Adams established. An attorney was heard to say recently that when he is searching county records he takes what Mr. Adams has recorded at face value. He seldom charged for advice and gave away enough to have made him wealthy. People would come in for advice and offer to pay but he would say, "Oh just let it go. I’ll come by sometime and eat with you and feed my horse." Once a man came in for advice and wasn’t quite satisfied. Riley suggested he go see another attorney which he did. In a few minutes this man returned and exclaimed. "Why he told me the same thing you did and charged me ten dollars."

Uncle Riley loved children and was never without goobers (peanuts) in his pockets and al


ways carried coppers (pennies) to hand out to them. In the farm home there was a Crown organ purchased in 1906. One son, William H., could play it and others sang. The organ was kept in excellent condition until destroyed in the 1927 flood. Mr. Adams also had in the home one of the first, if not the first, phonographs in the neighborhood. In the summer of 1906 he held a "Phonograph Exhibition, Goodloe, Missouri. 5 cents admission." People came in covered wagons and camped in the yard. A few came a distance of 20 miles. Many of those people sat up all night and played over and over, "The Preacher and the Bear", "The Anvil Chorus", "Oh Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight", and "Golden Slippers", and "Hot Time In Old Town."

Riley Adams was never a respecter of persons. He showed the millionaire the same respect, no more, no less, than he did the farmer or the man engaged in common labor. His patience was as strong as his power of concentration, but he was known to lose his temper at times. In those instances Riley’s worst words were, "dad blame", "confound it", and "by jings."

William Riley joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows soon after coming to Missouri and remained faithful until his death. Mr. Adams passed all the chairs, was a member of the Grand Lodge and attended Grand Lodge, in Joplin, Boonville, St. Louis and other places in the state. He served as secretary of Swan Lodge #533 at Forsyth for more than 20 years. Riley was a member of the White River General Baptist Association and was secretary for many years.

Three things came first in Riley Adams’ life, his family, his church, and the Odd Fellow Lodge. On the afternoon of April 29, 1936 he went to his office to give instruction to the young man who was to take over the law practice and an abstract company and passed away that night to become another cancer statistic.

William Riley Adams; scribe, teacher, photographer, printer, attorney at law, surveyor, engineer, abstractor, Christian worker; truly versatile man.


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