The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

Turnbo Home | Table of Contents | Keyword Search| Bibliography | Biography

By S. C. Turnbo

One mile west of Elbow Creek in Taney County, Mo., is a bald hill called "Poor Joe." There is nothing remarkable in the formation of this moundlike hill, but it possesses a name which it has borne since the early settlement of the country. Though while "Poor Joel" is not a tall eminence yet it is so situated that a pretty view from its top is obtainable and the common scenery of this part of the Ozarks are observed such as wooded hills, glades, bald knobs and prairie hollows. Looking southward and southwest and south of west many of the hills in Marion, Boone and Carroll Counties, Arkansas, are plainly visible. Many years in the long ago when herds of deer fed on the tender herbs and big flocks of wild turkeys grew fat on wild onions and wild grapes and the seeds of other vegetation the busy hunter feasted on wild meat and did not do without his coffee as long as he had a deer hide to sell. At that time it was common to encounter large groups of deer in the Elbow hills. It was a pretty sight to see so many of them together. Mr. C. S. (Calvin) Vance says that he saw a large herd of deer once on the side of this bald knob. "Though I was not able to make out their exact number," said he "yet there were not less than 150 of them. I sat on my horse and watched their movements which were very interesting and wonderful to me. The whole group appeared so busy that they aid not notice me. They were jumping and running around each other and every one seemed to try to go through with the most antic actions. The sight of these playful animals were so attractive that I almost imagined that I was in a land of fairies where the supposed beautiful objects had assumed the form of the fleet deer. This fascinating view of these lovely creatures could not last always for after awhile the entire bunch took fright and the charm was broken. They ran down the hill toward me making a loud racket with their feet as they passed over the rough ground. I held my horse quiet until they were near me then I thought they would run over my horse and myself. It was now that my horse took fright and came near bucking me off. When the horse began to kick, plunge and tried to run away the deer seen me and scattered like leaves tossed about by the wind. Some of the animals passed in less than a half a dozen yards of me. I had an excellent rifle with me but my mind was so absorbed with delight in watching the deer while they were frolicking that I resisted the temptation of shooting one of them and it was too late to shoot after they took their scare and were running off and my horse trying his beat to unseat me."

There was a time when big game existed here and this reminds me of a bear story which we think is worthy of place in these sketches. The account of it was told me by "thresher" Bill Yocum who said that when he was 25 years old or in 1839 he and Joe Coker son of Len Coker while on a camp hunt together on Elbow Creek killed a bear in the face of the bluff near the creek bottom which was then covered with cane and was known by the early hunters as cane bottom. Mr. Yocum said that their two dogs routed a bear out of the cane in this bottom and after chasing it awhile it ran around and went into the face of the bluff and stopped under a shelving rock just above a high cliff of rock. We hurried on and when we reached the top of the bluff we rushed down toward where the dogs were baying the bear. Each of us was trying to keep in the advance of the other in order to put in the first shot at the bear. As we ran down we seen bruin run out from under the overhanging rock and strike at a dog with his paw but the dog dodged the stroke and the bear went back under the rock. The face of the bluff was steep and rough and in my haste I fell and went rolling down. I made every effort in my power to clutch to something to make fast to for I was in iminent danger of going over the ledge where the bear was and go on over the precipice, but just as I reached the brink of the ledge I anchored up against a sapling. At this moment the bear made its appearance the second time to mix with the dogs. Joe reached the top of the ledge about the time I hit the sapling and seeing the opportunity he sent a bullet into the bear’s head and bruin dropped. When he fell the two dogs pitched onto it and dead bear and dogs went rolling and sliding down to the brink of the precipice and all went over together. We supposed the dogs were killed in the fall. After making our way down to the edge of the precipice we looked over and to our delight the dogs were alive. The bear was lying broadside and both dogs were on it trying to get a fight out of the dead animal. We went around to where we could descend to the base of the bluff and went to where the bear and dogs were and found that neither one of the dogs were hurt. We supposed that the reason they escaped injury was that the bear being the heaviest struck the ground first and the dogs had fell on it. The part of the bear which hit the rough stones was badly bruised and the meat was unfit for use. The killing of this bear occurred not very far from this knob.

There is an old time tradition in connection with this bald hill which the old settlers said was true. But the occurrence of it was so long ago that it is almost impossible at this late day to obtain an accurate account of it. But the story was told about this way.

Joe Coker, an uncle of the one mentioned above, and who we have said elsewhere was among the first settlers on White River. He had married in Alabama and his wife died in that state. The issue of that marriage was two sons and two daughters. William (Prairie Bill) and Herrod were the names of his two sons and Sally and Betsey were the names of his girls. Coker’s wife was a daughter of Bob Brown, another old time settler on White River. Soon after the death of his wife Joe married a Cherokee Indian woman named Aney (not Annie), but during the year previous to his marriage to this woman he sent his children and Negro slaves to White River in charge of his brother, Charles Coker, who reached the Sugar Loaf country in 1813 and as we have said before Joe Coker himself came here in 1814. His father, William (Buck) Coker, pitched his tent on the north bank of White River January the 8th, 1815. The spot where he located is now the Dave McCord farm in Jake Nave Bend and is embraced in Boone County, Arkansas. It was told by the settlers that after Joe took up his abode on White River he was not contented with one Indian wife and took unto himself another one of the name of Cynthiana. She was a daughter of John Rogers, a white man who had married a full blood Cherokee woman. Many years after the occurrence of the story we have in mind Aney lived on the river and "Cyntha" lived in the Sugar Loaf Prairie. It was said that after Coker showed his affections for the second Indian woman the Indiana, who were numerous here at that time but were friendly, become greatly incensed at Joe’s conduct for having one too many wives of their kindred and made up their minds to put him out of the way. But Coker understood the enmity they held against him and was constantly on the lookout for them to prevent them taking the advantage of him and thus it went on for some time when finally a bunch of the Indians got the drop on him and thought his scalp was in their grasp. It is told that Coker and others had went to Elbow Creek to kill bear. The majority of the men were afoot. It appears that a small band of Indiana were hunting here at the same time which was unknown to Coker and his friends. The Indians were all afoot and carried their bows and arrows and tommyhawks. One day while Uncle Joe was hunting alone on the west side of the creek the Indians discovered and recognized him. He in turn knew that they were his enemies. Joe had his rifle and hunting knife. The band of Indians raised the war whoop and charged toward him. Knowing he had no chance for his life in contending against so many Coker reserved his fire and fled. The woods were open—that is it was divided into belts of trees and prairies without undergrowth or thickets or bresh. Coker was in the prime of life and stout and vigorous and he bounded along through the tall grass like a deer pursued by a pack of hounds. As he ran he looked back and perceived that the yelling band was gaining on him. This was not a good omen and he did his utmost to accelerate his speed. On came the noisy Indians who were thirsting for his blood and scalplock. Uncle Joe was not ready to surrender his life and he knew that his safety depended on his legs and he made good use of them. The pursuing Indians yelled like demons and let fly several arrows at the retreating form of Coker but they went wide of their mark. The fast racing white man had no time to stop and exchange shots with the red men for his business lay rolling from there and that in a hurry. It was not long before the man drew near this bald hill. It lay directly in his course but he kept straight forward up the slope. Coker was afraid to turn to the right or left for fear the Indiana might head him off. By this time the white man was becoming tired and his breath was coming and going at much shorter intervals than common and before reaching the summit the Indians gained on him rapidly and as the pursued and pursuers went rushing along over the top of the knob the latter came near overhauling their intended victim. Thinking he would have to face death Joe thought he would stop and sell out to his enemies as dear as possible, but at this moment the red men thinking he was a a good as theirs yelled the louder which put new life in Joe’s system and without halting he renewed his running power to keep in advance of his foes. A few of the fleetest Indians had dashed forward ahead of their companions and were almost in the act of striking him with their tommyhawks, when Coker threw down his rifle which impeded his progress and cried out in a loud voice as he ran, "Poor Joe", "Poor Joe" a half a dozen times or more for he believed he was a goner this time sure. By this time the white man and the foremost Indians had reached the slope on the opposite side from where he ran up and being relieved of his rifle he was now in better running order and he bounded along down the hillside like a rubber ball and soon outstripped the angry savages. Part of the Indians stopped to pick up Joe’s rifle and exult over the possession of it. Of course when these Indians halted it gave the man some advantage and he made good use of it. When the other red men stopped the fleetest ones clacked their speed and slowed up. Very soon Coker looked back again and seen the Indians far in the rear. But he kept up the race when finally he lost sight of them. But on he went as fast as he could run over the rough ground and across glades, small prairies and wooded ridges. It was a desperate race. He looked back again but his pursuers if they were still following him were not in his sight. His strength was nearly exhausted and he could run but little further until he rested. Seeing a fallen tree a few yards ahead which had been blown down by a windstorm during the summer and he sought its friendly shelter of limbs and dead foliage and lay in concealment until his almost exhusted organs of respiration could equalize the circulation of blood then he poked his head out of the tree top and finding the coast was clear left his hiding place and went on and escaped. No doubt the Indians could have followed him to his place of refuge in the treetop for he had left a plain trail behind him in the rank grass, but fortunately for him they abandoned the chase and turned in another direction. This bald hill was called Poor Joe from that day and retains the name to the present time. More than likely this name will never be changed as long as the little brooklet which flows on the east side of it is called Elbow Creek.

Next Story

Turnbo Home | Table of Contents | Keyword Search| Bibliography | Biography

Springfield-Greene County Library