The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

The Ozark region was once the garden spot of the white tailed deer. The clear running streams and bubbling springs gave an abundance of water to those beautiful animals that inhabited this section. These famous hills were a paradise for the early hunters. They passed many happy days and delightful hours in killing the various kind of game. It was a source of profit, pleasure and support. The pure healthy water as found in the Ozarks is something that every country does not afford. The people of the Ozarks are blessed with some of the best water in North America. Though the old time hunter with his slow track dog and primitive ways has passed beyond this life, the report of the old time muzzle loader is seldom heard, the shambling bear is gone, the deer have nearly disappeared, the hundreds and thousands of wild turkeys are reduced to a mere handfull, yet the God-given gift of cool invigorating water still remains. We ought to feel very thankful to the Great Omnipotent Ruler for the unlimited supply and benefit of this life-giving element that we enjoy. The busy farmer, the rustling stock raiser, and all other classes who live in the Ozark hills ought not to complain for the want of water. Though a fine spring may not be found on every man’s farm, everybody’s dwelling may not stand on the bank of a clear running rivulet, yet the veins of water or earth’s currents are so numerous and strong that a plentiful supply can be obtained under the surface of the ground. Some people grumble because living water does not gush out of the ground at the foot of every tree. Others growl because a fine brooklet does not run through their door yard. Oh let us quit complaining so much at finding fault with our Ruler in Heaven and the defects of our country. It is our duty to do what we can to build up and not tear down. You own land here and you want it to be worth something-how can you expect your farm to be of any money value while you are disparaging the reputation of your section and speak no good word nor have no regard for its advantages and always hammering on its disadvantages. Many years ago two young men became restless and tired of the Ozarks and went to hunt their fortunes in other climes but they did not find money hanging on the bushes as they expected. Bad water and malarial climate made them think of the fine water and healthy air of their original homes and they concluded to go back and they turned their heads and bid adieu to the tadpoles and alligators and went. When they struck the first clear stream of water in the Ozarks they stopped to observe the water as it flowed over the gravel bed and one of them remarked to the other to "look at that pretty water." The other replied that "the Ozarks are not so bad after all our complaints."

Among the fine flowing springs of the Ozarks is the one on head of Yocum Creek in Taney County and is about ¾ of a mile south of the little hamlet of Cedar Creek. This cold living water runs out from under a bluff of rocks. One warm day recently I went some distance out of the way to drink out of this spring. The water was just as icy cold then as it was when I drank out of it in August, 1849. A few bear hunters were acquainted with this water in the early part of the l9th century.

As time went on this spot was well known to many white invaders who hunted here. We have already, referred to an incident of hunting which occurred here. We will now mention another one. Other early hunters who chased the bear and killed the spry deer in this locality were Len Coker and his son Joe and "Thresher" Bill Yocum, who lived at the mouth of Bear Creek. These men were rustlers in the occupation of hunting and killed all the game they wanted. They did not confine themselves entirely to the south side of the river either, but would frequently cross over to the north side and make the hills of Elbow, Yocum and Cedar Creeks their hunting grounds. These men have departed this life, but their memory is still fresh in the minds of those who knew them.

"Thresher" Bill Yocum related to me several years before his death a few sketches of his experience as a hunter In the long ago. Among the important incidents as given by him is one he told of witnessing a desperate fight between two bucks which occurred a short distance from this spring. In relating the story Mr. Yocum said he hunted in Taney County as early as 1825. "I well remember one of our hunting tours in the fall of 1831, Len Coker and I crossed the river and went out to the spring you speak of on the head of Yocum Creek on a few day’s camp hunt. Our bedding was composed of bearskins, sheltered by spreading deerhides on poles. Our fare seemed royal to us for it consisted of both fresh and dried venison, pone bread, bear meat and wild honey. The weather was clear, serene and cool enough to save meat and hides, which made our stay here delightful as far as the weather and our fare was concerned. But we were annoyed by the wolves which smelled the fresh meat and caused them to hover close around camp and howl from dark till daylight and occasionally a panther would give us warning of its approach by a fierce scream. It was a suitable place to hunt for game. The prairie hollows and wooded hills was just the place to find plenty of deer. We killed a few bear and collected a good supply of deer pelts. Yes, about the deer fight, I will tell you about it now," said Mr. Yocum. "Soon after sunrise one morning while we were preparing our forest fare we heard a mighty racket commence toward where L. P. Cornett’s store house now stands (Groom Post Office), sometimes called Flat Rock. We were at a loss to understand what sort of animals had met and were making such a terrible noise. Without fooling away time listening longer we hastily took our cooking vessels from the fire and snatched up our rifles and left camp on a run to investigate. We had not far to go before we saw two bucks engaged in a terrific encounter. They were alone and had not been fighting more than a few minutes, but by the time we got near them we noticed that their big horns were locked fast together. Both animals were large and fat and showed great ferocity and strength. They paid no attention to us. They were so busy with the fight that they had no time to look our way or get scared at us. They both surged and pushed with such power that it seemed impossible for either deer to escape without a broken neck. The battle was astonishing and we were held spellbound. As the fight progressed they would seek advantage of each other in a twinkle and change their mind frequently. Sometimes they would brace themselves and pull back with all their strength in an effort to force themselves apart. Failing in this they would push against each other like two infuriated bulls. Then they would try to raise on their hind feet and strike with their forefeet then lower their heads, plunge and paw the ground. They fought over nearly two acres of ground and the struggle lasted several hours. We were so deeply interested in watching the conflict that we forgot breakfast and the hour to start on the day’s hunt. Their unyielding power was surprising, but their strength was growing weak and finally both animals had become so exhausted that they were barely able to stand on their feet, yet they kept their bodies in motion and went on with a faint struggle until we got sorry for their condition and their feeble efforts to maintain their courage in their desperate struggle for the mastery and we shot them both and saved their hides and returned to camp to eat a very late breakfast. About one month afterward we went back to the scene of the fight and found their bones had disappeared except the heads and horns. These we carried home and we disentangled the prongs of the beams by means of strong poles. I was 17 years old then," said the old timer "and the recollection of that awful encounter between those furious antlered animals is still fresh in my mind."

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