The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

The Choska Bottom on the Arkansas River, Indian Territory, Creek Nation, is the residence of many people from the states of Missouri and Arkansas. Though while a number of people suffer with chills in this section they seem to enjoy the cultivation of the fertile soil here which is so well adapted to the raising of fine crops of corn and cotton. Among the Missourians who reside in this bottom is Ira J. (Joseph) Davis, an old timer of the southern part of the state and who also lived a few years in northern Arkansas.

One day in the month of October, 1903, I met Mr. Davis in the bottom mentioned where he lived just above the lake and four miles north of Choska and three miles southwest of Red Bird, where he told me of the days when he lived and hunted in southern Missouri. Mr. Davis was born in the state of Illinois in 1837, but has lived in Missouri from childhood. In 1857 when he was 20 years old he and his parents, Joe and Jane (Scribnor) Davis, moved to Christian County and settled on Swan Creek one mile below the mouth of Barbers Creek. In relating his observations in the then wild forest of southern Missouri and his experience as a hunter he said, "I will tell you the names of a few of the early pioneers that lived in Christian County, when we located on Swan Greek in 1857. I remember Jim Cook, Lewis Cunningham, Haining Gimbin, Bill Jackson., Bucky Scribnor and Dick Pig. Well, I never saw a snake charm a squirrel but one day while I and Henry Stephens were hunting together in the hills of Swan Creek we saw a rattlesnake more than two feet in length that had a fox-squirrel in its mouth head foremost that it had swallowed to the squirrels shoulders. We killed the serpent and examined the squirrel and found no marks on it to show that it had been killed by other means and we concluded that it had been charmed and slain by the rattler. I well remember that after we located here of flocks of wild turkeys approaching so near the house that I would stand in the house and rest my gun against the door facing and shoot one before they got away. I have killed them in this way not only once or twice, but several times. I will now give you an account of seeing an eagle striking a deer which interested me no little. One day in 1858 while I and Elbert Peace were hunting together on the west side of Swan Creek and near two miles above where my father lived we saw a deer close to the creek coming toward us at full speed. Very soon after seeing the deer we saw a grey eagle flying along just above it. It was evident that the big bird was following the deer, but owing to the thick growth of timber the eagle had considerable difficulty in attacking the fleeing animal, but the latter soon passed into an open space and the eagle darted down and struck the deer. The stroke did not knock the animal down but it bleated in a pitiful manner. As soon as the eagle struck the deer it rose upward and down it darted the second time and hit the deer with its talons again. Just after the eagle struck the deer the third time both passed out of our sight. Being much interested to know whether the eagle had killed its victim or not we followed the trail of the deer some distance and found the eagle eating on the deer in the creek bottom close to the foot of a hill. The bird had struck the deer so often that it had become too weak to escape its ferocious enemy and fell and the eagle finished its life and was satisfying its appetite on the deer meat when we arrived. Mr. Peace shot and killed the eagle and we took it and the deer home with us. The deer was a doe and was a year old past.

"Speaking of deer," continued Mr. Davis, "reminds me of an incident while I lived in the flatwoods ten miles south of Thomasville in Oregon County, Mo. One of our neighbors there was a man of the name of Joe Roberts and a big buck was in the habit of getting into his garden of nights and helping himself to the foliage of beans and other garden truck. One moonlit night while I was at Robert’s house we saw the buck down on his knees. As he had ate up nearly all the beans in the garden we thought he was praying for more beans. The buck had visited the garden so frequent that he had become a nuisance and Roberts was determined to kill him. The animal was about 40 paces from the door of his dwelling. After examining the condition of his gun and finding it in good fix, Roberts told me to hold the lighted candle for him and he stood in the door and shot the buck dead. It turned out that the buck was not praying but was eating beets.

"I never met any serious trouble with wolves while I lived in southern Missouri, but I will tell you two wolf stories which I can vouch for the truth," said Mr. Davis. "On a small stream called two mile creek that runs into Warren Fork of Spring River and near three miles below the mouth of Rocky Hollow a pack of wolves attacked and killed a three year old bay mare one night. The mare belonged to old man Goodwin who had been plowing her the day before and had turned her out at night with the bill on to graze. On the following morning Mr. Goodwin went out into the woods to bring the mare home to plow her again that day and to his amazement discovered that a gang of wolves had attacked her. She had resisted the ravenous beasts so stoutly that she ran nearly a mile into a place where a few months previous a windstorm had blown down several trees. Here they had overpowered and killed her in a big blackoak top that the storm had blown over. But the wolves had caught her more than a dozen times before reaching the track of the hurricane, but she had managed to get away from them and in her frantic efforts to escape the blood thirsty animals had run into the treetop and got tangled among the limbs and was easily killed by them. The wolves had out the mare’s throat in several places and torn great gashes all over her body with their teeth while killing her. The beasts had sucked her blood and torn out her entrails and devoured them. None of the wolves were in sight when the owner of the mare reached the spot. Mr. Goodwin came to my house and requested me to assist him to poison the flesh of the mare to destroy the lives of some of the wolves. We used plenty of strychnine and poisoned the flesh of the dead mare all over her and through her and the result was that we killed six of the pack with the poison which were found near the carcass of the mare. Another wolf had got as far as Christopher Huff’s spring in a dying condition and Mr. Huff’s little boy whose given name was Thomas finished the life of the animal with an axe."

The other wolf story given by Mr. Davis relates to a savage gang of wolves attacking a man which he says occurred in Rocky Hollow that runs into Warren Fork of Spring River in Oregon County, Mo. In giving the account of it Mr. Davis said that during one fall season soon after the close of the war Tom Watson, Jasper Howel and Tom Gooden went into the above named hollow on a camp hunt. After staying there one week collecting deer hams, hides and wild turkey for winter supply and use, they found that their supply of lard, meal and coffee was running short and as they did not desire to give up hunting for several days they arranged among themselves for Watson to return to their homes and bring another supply to camp. Watson was afoot and when in one-half a mile of camp on his return back eight grey wolves rushed at him to take him down. He had no time to put down the lard, meal and coffee carefully, but dropped the articles and made ready in an instant to defend himself against the attack of the howling and snarling beasts. His clenched hands and a pen knife was all he could depend on to darry him out of the fight, and it was a desperate battle for life. The wolves in their fury to make an evening meal of human blood closed around him and soon tore his clothes into shreds and in a few minutes more there was nothing left of his shirt but the collar and wristbands. The sight was horrifying. The man kicked and used the strong pen knife in no gentle way. The wolves snapped, gnashed their teeth and tore gashes on his body and limbs. As the despairing man used all his strength in fighting the terrible beasts he had but one hope of his life and that was if he could make his companions hear his voice of distress and he hallooed manfully. He did not stop to listen if there was an answer of relief for he did not have time to stop for war between man and wild beasts was on and he knew the wolves would not allow an armistice. The other men heard his call for help and knowing from his cries that all was not right they snatched up their guns and ran to his assistance. On arriving in sight they perceived that their friend’s life was in imminent danger from a pack of wolves which were darting around him and trying to take him down. They dare not shoot at the wolves for fear of killing or wounding Watson, but they rushed up to the dreadful scene yelling and firing off their guns which had the desired effect for the wolves left their intended victim and retreated out of their sight and the man’s life was saved from destruction, but he was a wreck. The wolves had torn his pants off as well as his shirt. While the man fought in desperation for his life he reached for every foot of space he could toward camp and was 200 yards nearer when Howel and Gooden met him than he was when the wolves attacked him. Watson presented a pathetic sight with his clothes torn off and his body and limbs covered with wounds and blood. This was not all for when Howel and Gooden went back to where Watson had thrown down the provision they found one dead wolf that the man had killed with his knife and the lard in the bucket was gone and the meal sack and the slip that the coffee was in was torn open and the meal and coffee was scattered over the ground. On the following day another wolf was found dead close by that had died of wounds that Watson had inflicted with his knife.

Mr. Davis’s parents died ten miles south of Thomasville in Oregon County and are buried in the Roberts graveyard in the flatwoods.

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