The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

One mile and a quarter northwest of the little hamlet of Cedar Creek and one quarter of a mile southwest of Bald Knob schoolhouse in Taney County, Mo., is a paririe hill known among the early settlers as Miliken’s Bald Hill. The scenery observed from the top is wide and attractive. The low hills which divide the sources of Yocum, Cedar and Elbow Creeks loom up in view. The intermingled hills and hollows make one think of a beautiful landscape as seen in a picture. During the early hours of morning, when the air is calm and fog hangs over White River, it is interesting to trace the zig zag course of this stream for many miles. This bald knob derived its name from John Miliken, who built a log hut here during the early settlement of Taney County. He resided here a few years and feasted on fat bucks, bear meat and wild honey. His neighbors were the fat bear, the howling wolf, the vicious catamount and stealthy panther, yet this old time hunter and settler said he enjoyed living in this then wild region of Missouri. This was long ago when the tall grass covered the hills and numerous wild flowers emitted their sweet smelling flavors. As I stood on the summit of this knob one day in September and viewed the scenery of wooded hills, glades and prairie hollows I called to mind what a change in Taney County since 1850. The wild beasts trod the forest. The wolf howled, the panther screamed, the hunter was in the middle of glory for he chased the big bear and fleet deer and killed them and had all the wild meat he needed. But now the large game has disappeared and the early hunter has ferried the river and entered a different land; the hills and valleys are dotted with farms, comfortable dwellings, school and church houses, villages and towns—truly the change is wonderful.

I well remember, when I was a little fellow, hearing a warm discussion between two hunters regarding the future settlement of Taney County. One of the men claimed that no permanent settlements would be established on the ridges and small streams. He said no man could support himself by agriculture outside of the White River bottoms and the bottoms along the main creeks. He contended that the soil was too poor to grow corn and wheat, and after the game went out of existence a farmer would starve to death in the hills if he depended on crop production for a living. The other hunter held that, in the course of time, industrious farmers, stock raisers and merchants would locate on the ridges and small flats and many of them would prosper. By taking a bird’s eye view of Taney and adjoining counties it is easily seen which one of these old timers was right and which one was mistaken. A short while after the close of the great Civil War, when settlers were seeking homes among the hills and vales of White River, I met a man who said he was just from Indiana. He was a grunter and grumbler. He saw nothing among the Ozark hills that pleased him. He said he saw nothing that was satisfactory to his eyes. There was nothing here that suited him. He was the greatest exaggerator I ever met. He claimed that the poorest soil in Indiana produced 100 bushels of corn to the acre, and that it required 100 acres of the richest soil here to produce one bushel of corn.

It seems foolish to pen the language used by this man, but it is written to show how a few will abuse one section and exaggerate another. If a stranger here desires to learn whether there is any corn raised in Taney County or not, let him ask the industrious farmer and busy stock dealer. They will tell you that there is not much surplus raised here but plenty to live on.

But we are digressing from our story and must return to the subject we commenced to narrate. It is a sad tale to relate, and is in connection with this bald hill, the occurrence of which happened during the bloody days of the war of the sixties and is supposed to have taken place in the night time. The scene where it occurred was sad to look upon by the one that made the discovery. The awful circumstance was in the shape of three human beings slain and eaten by wolves. There was scarcely any traveling through this section at the time and no one knew of the terrible tragedy until several weeks had elapsed. To make the story more complete, we will state that when the war broke out, Ned Coker and his son William—"River Bill" they called him, to distinguish him from "Wagoner Bill", Yellville Bill" and "Prairie Bill" Coker—lived on the south bank of White River in Marion County, Ark. The former’s named residence was on the farm on the right bank of the river just below the mouth of East Sugar Loaf Creek. The latter lived on the farm opposite the mouth of Shoal Creek. Both these men were slave-holders and possessed about fifteen negroes each. As the war progressed, father and son sought safety in Greene County, Mo., where they both died, eight miles north of Springfield. A few of the slaves left before their masters but others remained until later before they went off. A few stayed until the summer of 1864, when the ravages of war forced them to vacate their old homes. Among the latter was a negro woman and her two small boys. They were almost famished for food when they waded across the river at the Fish Trap Shoals Ford where Bradleys Ferry is now and stopped at John Jones who lived on the Mat Hoodenpile place, and Mrs. Elizabeth Jones gave them food. They were in such starving condition that Mrs. Jones and family kept them a few days and divided such food with them as they had. The woman’s name was Delilah, the children were known as Sambo and Mugginhead. The woman wanted to go to Greene County, Mo., where Ned and Bill Coker resided, in order to procure food and raiment. Early one morning the mother and children departed on their long walk. Mrs. Jones gave them food sufficient to last them to Kissee Mills on Beaver Creek. As it was summertime they could use the soft grass for a bed at night, and the foliage of a tree for shelter. It is told that they got on the Yellville and Forsyth wagon road at the John Yandell farm on Elbow Creek. This was the last heard of them until their bleached bones and bits of clothing were found near the foot of this bald knob. An investigation proved that the remnant apparel belonged to these three unfortunate negroes. It was supposed they reached near the base of this hill the first day where they stopped in the timber for the night and were attacked by a pack of wolves during the night and destroyed.

Their awful doom and destruction can never be accurately described, but let us imagine the heart rending shrieks and dying moans of the unfortunate family. This mixed with the noise made by the wolves snapping and snarling, was certainly direful. It was told by those who discovered their remains that the evidence on the ground showed that the woman made a desperate effort to defend herself and children. She had fought the wolves over the space of half an acre. Stones, clubs and chunks of dead wood that she had used in resisting the attack lay scattered on the down trodden grass. They were the only weapons of defense, and she had made desperate use of them to the finish. Probably she had beaten them back and kept them at bay some time before the ravenous beasts finally overcome her and gloated in the blood of the helpless human creatures. Their fate was simply awful. Who can imagine the consternation and terror of these poor beings when they were attacked by the vicious and hungry pack, and with loud screams and hard struggles were forced to yield their lives in such a horrible manner? Their destruction is sad to reflect upon.

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