The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

John Mosely was an early settler of Taney County, Mo. His parents, Len S. and Elizabeth (Whitney) Mosely, located on Little Beaver Creek in 1840, but during the following year they settled on the south bank of the river between the mouth of Beaver Creek and Forsyth. On the opposite bank of the river from where Mosely located the writer’s father built a cabin and cleared some land. He and John Mosely were young unmarried men then and they often visited each other and talked of their prospects of making a living on White River. John would cross the river in his dugout and keep father company on many nights while he lived alone on his little claim. John Mosely was born in Shelby County, Illinois, March 14, 1825, and was 15 years old when he first saw the hills of Taney County. Many years after he was married he served the people of Taney County as sheriff two terms.

In August, 1896, while he owned a mill on Beaver Creek, the writer had the pleasure of a long interview with him regarding his experience here in the early days of Beaver Creek and adjoining territory. It is a pleasure to listen at his narratives of bygone days. He has a vivid recollection of the great freshet in White River in May, 1844, which swept over the bottoms and carried away fencing, washed up the corn crops and drowned some stock. He said that during the highest stage he and another settler hearing someone hollow on the north side of the river and thinking that a human being was in distress they crossed the river in a dugout. It was a dangerous undertaking for the water reached from hill to hill; and they had great difficulty in guiding the tottery canoe through the timber. When they landed it was ½ a mile below the starting point. Their trouble was for nothing for they found no one in distress.

He remembers Sam Nelson who built the first mill where the Keesee mills and town of the same name now is. A graveyard was begun here soon after Nelson built his mill where from time to time several old timers of Beaver Creek were laid to rest. Mr. Mosely says that his parents were buried here. In speaking of early times in Taney County the customs of the people and manner of living, Mr. Mosely said that the settlers bought little from the outside world, but ammunition, salt and coffee. He says he has known salt to bring eight dollars per sack when it had to be hauled from St. Louis. The skins of wild animals were manufactured into moccasins and other articles of apparel. Wild game furnished meat, furs and peltry. The last two were exchanged for those necessaries that could not be made at home.

"You want my experience with bear and panthers," said Uncle John. I never had the opportunity to kill a bear. That sounds singular to you no doubt, for there were plenty of them here. But I did kill a big panther one day. I was hunting on the crest of a high ridge where my two dogs started it. They chased it down to the foot of the steep hill. Going down to where the dogs had it treed I stopped on the hillside on a level with the panther which was in the top of a tall tree. Being in good range I took aim and brought him down at the first shot. The animal was dead when it struck the ground. It had very big claws. I took one off and it was large enough to hold a full charge of powder for a navy pistol.

"I have a little sketch about a wild animal getting so near me one night that it whispered to me right on my face. The story of it may interest someone. One night Bill Teague and I camped on Lower Caney Creek of Beaver. Along in the night I was aroused from sleep by something smelling and sniffing on my face. It alarmed me and with a yell I leaped up in terror and my fright was renewed for I saw a large catamount jump away from the head of our bed and run off into the dark out of the light of the fire. I and Teague sat up the remainder of the night and piled wood on the fire and watched for more catamounts. But they did not come.

"You wanted to know something about the deer here. Well, there was a time here in Taney County when we could see large numbers of them. Brinkly Scribner and I were companion hunters for several years. We often hunted in the hills all along the lower part of Beaver. In the forepart of the day, during spring or summer, if we did not see from 50 to 75 deer, or from 75 to 100 in the run of a day in winter time, we took it for granted that the deer were leaving or that we were unlucky. This gives you a good idea of the number of deer here when Beaver Creek was sparsely settled.

"I will now tell you something about the wolves. Every settler on Beaver if alive could testify as to the great number that once inhabited this section. In commencing on the subject of wolves reminds me of my father and Ben Womack going over on Turkey Creek near where the present town of Bixbyville stands, on a camp hunt. They stayed over there several days and killed deer for their hides. At sundown after their day’s hunt was over they would collect plenty of wood to replenish the fire during the night to keep off the wild beasts. One evening they lay down earlier than common for they felt very tired after the day’s tramp. They were soon in the land of dreams and saw a vision of scores of deer all around their camp fire. How long they had slept they were not able to tell, but they both were awakened out of sleep by footsteps of animals close to the fire. They thought it was a bunch of deer sure enough that had walked up so close. Womack raised up and tossed wood on the fire while father with gun in hand was waiting for a shot. In a short time there was a dim light of the fire and they perceived the outlines or forms of several animals standing a few feet away. Supposing they were deer father shot one down. Dropping the rifle down on the bed he sprang at the prostrate animal in his night clothes with knife in hand to cut its throat for fear it might rise and get away. But by this time the firelight had increased in brightness and Womack saw what it was, and said in a loud tone, "Look out, Len, it is a wolf," and sure enough, father had killed a big gray wolf. At the report of the gun the others stampeded. If they returned back close to camp again that night they knew nothing of it. Next morning they found wolf tracks all around the fire and where they slept and they were not scarce either. How the two hunters escaped an attack is something not easily solved. They certainly were not vicious. The men had no dogs with them was all the reason they could give that the wolves did not attack them while they slumbered and saw visions of pretty deer looming up before them.

"Now I will tell you a story of my own experience with wolves. I never thought much about wolf stories that circulated among the hunters—their stories were as common and plentiful as the wolves themselves. I would often hear of settlers being attacked by wolves and hustled up a tree, but I always had my own opinion about it. If a truthful man told me he had been assailed by a gang of wolves, I would think the most of his yarn was based on imagination.

"One night I encountered a pack of wolves which put a different belief in my brains. I fell in among them when I least expected it. Here is how it happened. One day while living on Beaver Creek, I went up to Forsyth on business and to meet a few old friends there. We extended our chat too long for it was dark when I left town. I knew there were numerous wolves roaming about but I never apprehended danger from them until that night. The night was very dark and I left it with my horse to follow the road. I had traveled over it many times after night and never got lost nor met with anything serious. I had ascended the hill two miles below town and soon after I had passed the forks of the road on the ridge where the right hand prong leads to Taneyville. The road seemed more lonely than I ever felt it to be before. The clouds appeared to thicken and the dark became darker and my loneliness began to increase. But I shook it off the best I could and rode on towards Keesee mills. To keep from thinking of my solitude as much as possible, I began soliliquizing as to the difference between the upper White River valley and the good old state of Illinois where I came from. I noted all the advantages and disadvantages of the new and old and concluded that Taney County, as it was then, suited me better than my native state. About the moment I got this settled in my mind I was interrupted by the howling of wolves close by. People who are well acquainted with these animals know that a few of them can make a heap of noise. On that occasion they made fuss enough for twenty or more, yet there might have been only four or five of them. I made up my mind to give them a scare to get rid of their noise and commenced hallooing at them in order to make them run. They ran, though not in the direction I wanted them to go, but dashed up and surrounded me and the horse. The night was too dark for me to see them, but I could hear their feet on the ground, and they whined and clashed their teeth together in such away that cold chills played to and fro, up and down, my spinal bone. From their actions I thought they were going to make a supper of me on the spot. I was mounted on a good horse and he was as scared as I was. The horse plunged around so that I could hardly control him. I knew it was not a fit place for a terrified man and horse, so I give the horse the reins and off he went on a wild race, almost splitting the deep darkness in two as he went staving along the road. There was no one more willing to flee from a gang of howling wolves than I was that night. My horse put in his best speed and was carrying me away from there as fast as I wanted to go. I cannot tell you how rapid my horse did run but I knew from the clatter of his feet that he was not losing any time. It seemed that we almost flew along in the dark. I laid low on the pommel of the saddle to escape being knocked off of the horse by the limbs of trees which hung over the road. I am unable to inform you how far the wolves pursued for I had no time to stop and find out. The horse kept up the race without my urging him along, and he continued to move forward at this breakneck speed until I passed out of hearing of the wolves. Whether my horse outrun them or they just stopped to give me a rest is not for me to know. When I thought I was of danger I felt much relieved. "I learned an important lesson that night." continued Mr. Mosely. "It was: that when I heard a pack of wolves howl after that I made no attempt to frighten them. Then again after the terror of that dark night I never disputed the wolf tales my neighbors told me, for I was prepared now to believe almost anything they told me about wolves."

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