The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

During the Civil War when women and children expected to be disturbed by the enemy and stripped of property and deprived of eatables it was double danger to camp out from the fear that they would be attacked by wild beasts we well as by an enemy in human form. Incidents of this nature happened occasionally when any of the inhabitants of a neighborhood took shelter in the mountains for protection where wild beasts lived and war parties roamed. Mose S. Carter, son of John Carter, who was born on White River in Barry County, Mo., related an interesting account of camp life in the forest during a hot period of the war where wild beasts infested the country more numerous than the bushwhackers. At the time Mr. Carter give me the story I met him 1 ½ miles west of Red Bird in the Indian Territory and in the midst of the fine scenery of the beautiful prairie we had a long talk of the pioneer days of southwest Missouri and among other things Mr. Carter related this one to me. "Shell Knob is a high hill or bluff on the north side of White River 1 ½ miles below the mouth of King’s River. Shell Knob Post Office is ½ mile from Shell Knob Mountain and six miles east of Eagle Rock. Turkey Mountain is 2 ½ miles west of Shell Knob Mountain. Moccasin Gap lies between Shell Knob and Turkey Mountain. Eagle Rock is on Roaring River. Shell Knob took its name from Henry Shell who settled on land on the south side of White River opposite this noted hill, Big Creek which empties into White River on the north side near Shell Knob and below Eureka Springs is a rough deep narrow gorge-like valley. In the last month of the year 1863," said Mr. Carter "war parties of the irregular kind of both sides were thick and traveled in almost every direction. My father was absent in the union army and our stock was left in mother’s care. Our home was not safe from marauders and my mother whose name was Sarah decided to remove our household and provision and our horses into the mountains where it was supposed to be safe from the ravages of war. So we established our camp on Big Creek just named and some 25 miles north of where the city of Eureka Springs now stands. We built a shelter to sleep in and store away our provision. The horses subsisted on the range. Our camp was in the middle of an open place in the center of a thicket of undergrowth and small trees, but there were trails which lead along the stream and across the mountains. Our family consisted of my mother and myself and my two brothers, James and John Carter, and my sister, Mary Carter, and a grown girl who was living with us of the name of Mary Fields. We four children were all little fellows. We had two dogs with us we called Spring and Storm. The first named dog was a full blooded cur and the last named was a fine hound. As we could rest more secure and comfortable with the least noise made, we took much pains to train the dogs to keep quiet at the approach of intruders, whether they were beast or human beings. A few weeks of camp life on this stream proved to us that the wild beasts here were our worst enemies which made it disagreeable to us all. I was only 8 years old, but I took in the serious situation we were placed in. We had dreaded an enemy in human form and had retreated to this out of the way place for a refuge. But we soon learned that the dread of the approach of the four-footed enemy was to be feared the worst, and I realized our danger the same as if I had been a full grown man. Wolves annoyed us no little. I recollect that a gang of them come into the thicket one day and advanced up close to our quarters and made the wilderness feel miserable to us with their direful howling. We kept the dogs silent and knocked on a piece of plank to prevent them from coming right up into our camp. We kept our horses in a narrow valley between two high mountains where there was plenty of grass. The mouth of this hollow was near 400 yards from our camp. Sometimes when we went to the valley to bring the horses to camp we would see from 15 to 20 deer in a bunch which were so tame that they would stand and look at us like sheep. Among our bunch of horses was an old gentle mare we called "old gray" and when we would find the horses we would put the bridle on her and start back to camp with her and the other horses would follow her. One morning early before the dew had disappeared, mother and I went to bring the horses to camp and when we found them mother put the bridle on the old mare and had just started back when we heard a commotion among a flock of wild turkeys upon the side of the mountain above us. The turkeys were huddled together on a bench of ground just below a ledge of rock that extended along the Mountainside, and near 100 yards from us. We also saw a bald eagle sitting on the limb of a tree which stood a few yards above the turkey. The near presence of the eagle was the cause of the disturbance among the turkeys and we stopped and waited to see if the big bird would fly down and attack one. But we had not waited long before my mother exclaimed in terror, "Look at that panther." I glanced my eyes in the direction she had pointed her finger and saw the form of a long yellowish colored beast creeping slowly along toward the turkeys which were terrified by the eagle, but were ignorant of the near approach of the panther, for the stealthy animal was hidden from them by a big boulder that lay between it and the turkeys. When I saw the panther my mother says, "Made, we must go, "and without saying another word she lifted me up on "old gray’s" back and taken the bridle reins in her hand and lead the mare in greater haste toward camp than she ever did before and we were soon out of sight of the ferocious creature.

One night later on when winter time was closing in on us a snowfall of 5 inches fell and on the following night when the snow had went down to 4 inches, a big black beast come through the thicket toward our fire and did not stop until it was close to us. Though the dogs were not allowed to bark yet they dashed at it and fought it vigorously for a little while and then left the beast and ran back to us. We did now know what it was for it was too large for a wolf or panther. The dogs when they reached the fire turned and sprang back at it again and then run back to us, and the big black object followed the dogs in ten feet of the fire. The light of which revealed its identity for we now recognized it as a bear, and he was stubborn and impudent, which struck terror into our hearts and you can understand without me telling you that there was a stir among us that was not slow. The time was not more than an hour and a half after nightfall and we had a big blazing fire that spread a bright light several paces around. My mother encouraged the dogs and they attacked the bear at once and a desperate noise followed. The bear and the two dogs fought all around the fire and we all give them plenty of room to carry on the fight for we scattered in the snow like a bunch of quails when a hawk swoops down among them. It was no imitation of an excitement but a reality and it was as frightful as it was exciting. Our fright soon wore away and as the fight progressed we forgot all about the enemy in human shape and helped the dogs and bear to increase the noise and tumult. Finally during the confusion Mary Field snatched the ax up and threw it at the bear and hit it which caused bruin to retire some two rods from the fire and stopped and turned around with its head toward us and sit down and got himself in shape to knock the dogs away with his paws which by this time had assailed him again. But before he had struck a blow my mother called the dogs to us and made them lay down between the fire and the bear. She now ordered we children to bed and we needed no second bidding. Mother and Mary Fields sit up by the fire as guards to help the dogs to drive the bear off should he make another attack on our camp. But he did not come any closer to the fire and after remaining in the same position for some time he seemed to decide that he would not scare us again and lowered himself and disappeared in the darkness and did not molest us anymore."

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