Volume 7, Number 6 - Winter 1981

Willie Hendrex Remembers

From a taped interview made at the home of J. W. (Willie) Hendrex in Ozark, MO. "Willie" born Mar. 1, 1899 near Ponce de Leon, the son of J. L. (Lewis) and Nancy Hart Hendrex. He was married in Nov. 1945 to Gladys Blansit and is the father of one daughter, Barbara. Four sets of Hendrex families lived on the original homestead in 106 years. He has a wealth of knowledge on early area history.

This interview begins with Mr. Hendrex talking about White Oak School. ‘The first old schoolhouse was an old log house down by the White Oak Spring, just below Uncle Jim Davis’ house. It had no floors and no windows; just dressed possum hides with the hair removed, tacked over a place in the wall where a log had been taken out. They didn’t have any regular school seats, just split logs without any backs. That must have been built very early, not long after the Civil War. Later they built a bigger and better schoolhouse down near the old one. They had about three month’s school; started the first of July and ran to the last of September as they didn’t have any heat.

You asked me how big the original White Oak District was. Well, it was a big district; took in what was later Spokane and Flat Rock. It went to the Stone County line over close to Poncy on the west, a big territory. I’ve heard John A. Gideon talk about it. The district was too big and had to be divided. They had an election and by being careful, very careful, voted it just this way: to measure it off and find the center of the district. It turned out to be in Matt Davis’ field. You know where Frank Davis lived and where that old house was there on the corner of the roads where Jim Lee lived a long time ago? Well, just about a half a quarter south of Jim Lee’s house was where they built it and where it stayed until I was a great big boy.

When they got my Daddy, Wood Johnson and Will Viles on the board they voted to move the schoolhouse out of the field and up on the road. I believe Will Wade or ‘Lige, one or the other, owned that land at the time. (His sister, Mary Inmon thinks it was owned by Columbus Howard). Daddy and Wood Johnson went to Nixa and got the Joneses to move the house. It had set out there in the field so long the back end of the building was on the ground and it had begun to deteriorate, so they got that Rex-road bunch to build a foundation. Nobody then knew much about concrete and they used too coarse gravel and not enough cement. Wood Johnson just bucked and reared. Dad said that it was too bad to lose all that work and couldn’t they just put a coat of plaster over it and keep it from crumbling. Of course, the boys kept picking at it until it was about gone. Charlie Young built the last schoolhouse there. When the district was consolidated that building was sold to Marion Ellingsworth and moved to the other side of old Bengal and remodeled into a dwelling.

Talking about the McGinnis family. Old Noble McGinnis and his wife walked from Tennessee to Missouri soon after the Civil War with just a rifle and what they could carry. That was the way they got here. Killed game on the road for meat and bummed the rest I guess. They came upon the hillside just above the Cook Spring, a little past where my folks were, cleared off five or six acres and fenced it with brush. About that time Noble got himself an old Appaloosa mule, spotted and bobtailed, and he called it ‘General.’ He came down to the spring to water his mule, riding it bareback and barefoot with a spur on that barefoot. He saw Grandma and got to talking to her. He told her that General was a mighty fine mule but would jump out of the field when the nit flies got after him. Grandma cried to see such a sight. Old Noble didn’t have a thing but that old mule. People was as poor as could be.

Grandpa Hendrex came here from Tennessee after the war, but stayed at Rogersville that first year. He didn’t get here in time to put in much of a crop. He had a wagon and team. He loaded up his wagon with a little yoke of steers, my grandma and my daddy, who was about five years old. My daddy was born in 1861, just as the war began, and he didn’t know where they were going. But he didn’t want to stay in Rogersville. Some of the folks had come on to the James River and some made it on to Barry County, near Washburn. Grandpa got to Cook Spring, that big spring just above Poncy and it was on our place. There was an old log house that was built later. Someone had taken up a claim and had forsaken it - didn’t prove it up. Grandpa and Grandma Hendrex came along when the old cabin was empty. They were up again it and just moved in it which was


customary in those days. The little old log cabin stood right in front of that big spring. They squatted there for two years before they moved up to where we lived and took up a claim there.

Grandpa Hendrex freighted from the Bull and Layton Pineries to Springfield. Dad said that they would pull and struggle until they got to Chinch Pin Camp Ground south of Reeds Spring. The green lumber pulled awful hard the first day. They always carried a chopping axe. They would chop a pole and lay it between two trees, unload the green lumber, cross it over that pole and build a fire under it to dry the sap out of it at night. They had some terrible times. A few years later Grandpa died somewhere on the river and they buried him at Poncy.

Dad told me that a few years later he and Uncle John Bass went to Arkansas to buy sheep at six bits or a dollar. Once they bought 450 head of sheep. Dad called them ‘hair sheep.’ John said that they left him to take care of the sheep while Dad and another fellow went out rustling for more. They went up on the mountain and hunted. A fellow came along from the West and wanted to shear them on the halves. Dad said that they didn’t have time and the fellow said that he would shear them for the wool while he was there. He got three 2 x 8’s and set them down and sheared those sheep with an old pair of hand shears about as fast as he could catch them. They crossed the river at the Kimberling Ferry. One evening they landed there with both of them give out, but they had left five or six sheep on the big mountain the other side of the Kimberling house. John said ‘Lewis, don’t you think we had better get on our horses and get some of those sheep’? Dad said, ‘Don’t you think we have enough sheep’? I felt the same way - wasn’t worth climbing the mountain for.

Uncle John Poyner married Grandma’s sister. He got elected sheriff of Webster County; served his term out and came out rich. He had a team (a jenny and a cow) and a wagon. They loaded up and came on down to where my folks lived in the old cabin and wanted my folks to go with them to Washburn to see the rest of the family. How long would you say it took them to go from Rogersville to Cassville? A week or more.

You asked me if I ever went to school to John Graham. I didn’t and my father didn’t either. Dad got most of his education under Jonathan Fairbanks in Springfield. He got a second grade school certificate which was a rarity in those days. Just one man in that country had a state certificate and that was Old Man Reser. Rob Hendrex taught school, was County School Commissioner, ran for office, got beat six votes and after a long discourse over a lot of stuff moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma. He had a chance that a lot of people didn’t have but he didn’t manage right and he filled a pauper’s grave.

The first grave in Poncy Cemetery was dug by Marvel Mills’ wife and a little boy while the men folks were fighting in the war or hiding out in the woods from the bushwhackers. One time Jimmy McGinnis was shot; not bad, just grazed his skull, but he bled quite a bit. The fellers who shot him passed by and saw him and said ‘Boys, we are short of ammunition; can’t afford to waste any on him. He’s going to die anyway. Just look at that blood pouring.’ They went on their way and as soon as they got out of sight McGinnis wasn’t there anymore.

Marvel Mills was a Civil War veteran who married Hannah McGinnis. He had been married before and had one child, John, who married Margaret Davis, sister of Frank, Fish and Dicey Lee, old Uncle Jim Davis’ children. He and Hannah had one son, Noah.

I can tell a pretty scary one about dad. He couldn’t swim a lick. He and Marion Keltner of Nixa, an old soldier, had been down in Arkansas. They stayed all night at Wes Kimberling’s on White River. Kimberling told them that if they wanted to get across the river to hurry as the river was rising out of reason. Daddy couldn’t swim but he was riding a mare that could swim like a duck, so he got behind that old mare. If the ferry went down he would grab that old mare’s tail and she would get him out if he could hold on. They said that little Johnny Carr, who later lived at Abesville, tried to ferry some steers across White River once. I believe it was at the Mayberry Ferry. The ferry went down and Johnny couldn’t swim a lick, so he jumped on a big steer and rode him out.

I guess you have heard about the time Alec Gideon fell off his horse dead down in the holler from Uncle Jim Davis’ place? They found him laying there in the road with his horse grazing nearby. They had to leave him there until the coroner could come the next morning to hold an inquest. A big rain came that night and they had an awful time keeping that body dry. They got wagon sheets and did the best


they could. They said that they never spent such a night in their lives. If it had been one of my folks I would have moved him.

You knew Everett Choate, didn’t you? That Davis bunch was awful bad to tease. They said that Everett had been somewhere to something and they made it up that they would scare him when he came home. There was an old, big stump along the upper side of the road (about where Alec died) and one of them got behind that stump and hid. The others hid in the big ditch on the other side of the road. When Everett came riding along the ones in the ditch mournfully cried, ‘Oh Alec’. The one behind the stump answered and Everett nearly run his horse to death getting home. It was about a mile and Everett busted the door down when he got there.

Joe Choate had been to Stoke Watts’ to court his future wife, Ida Watts. (Joe Glossip also married an Ida Watts, granddaughter of Stoke Watts). Possum George Turner married the other Watts girl over in Douglas County before they moved to Poncy. Joe said that he was scared to death to pass Poncy Cemetery. He was coming home late one night and he saw something white moving in the graveyard. He let fly with a rock and it was an old white cow. She said ‘Moo’ and Joe got out of there quick.


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