EARLY DAYS IN SOUTHWEST MISSOURI

In mid-August of 1876 my parents moved to Southwest Missouri.  Their first abode was a one-room cabin.  The family consisted of Father, Mother, Father's son by a former marriage, and my two older brothers.  Soon after their arrival a daughter put in her appearance, swelling the family number to six.  Into that one room, which was none too large, they crowded a bed, cook stove, kitchen table and chairs, a rocking chair, cupboard, provisions, clothing and such other belongings as could not be safely left in the covered wagons.  Father, Mother and the baby slept in the cabin, and the boys in the wagons or on pallets spread on the ground. How they managed to exist under those conditions I'll never know, but exist they did, and, so far as I have learned, were none the worse for the experience--probably due to tIle fact that existence in those days did not require the frills of today.  Much to their satisfaction, their stay in the cabin was short.  Late in September, the house on the farm Father had purchased was vacated, and the family moved into more comfortable quarters.

This early-day farm house was built of heavy logs, the floors being of hard hickory wood.  There were two very large rooms with an old-fashioned fireplace in each one, quite different from the fireplaces of today.  The wide stone chimneys were at each end of tho house. Between the two rooms was a wide hall with a crude stairway leading to the upper room which would now be called “the attic" but in those days it was known simply as “the loft.”  Here Mother put up beds with shuck mattresses under sweet smelling straw ticks on which the boys slept.  Later there was a feather bed for every bed.  Mother raised her own geese, picked them and made these beds.

In the combination kitchen and every-day living room a cook stove and kitchen table were placed to the left of tho fireplace.  On the wall above the table, over a large sheet of oilcloth were hung skillets, baking pans, griddles and such other utensils as were supplied with means of hanging.  In the center of tho room was a larger table on which meals were served.  Split-bottom chairs with ladder backs surrounded this table.  The old-style cupboard stood conveniently near against the wall to the left of the cook table was the wash bench on which were a tin wash basin, a soap dish, a cedar water bucket with shiny brass bands, and a gourd dipper which was later replaced by a new tin dipper with a wooden handle.  A long roller-towel hung between the bench and the outside door opening to the back yard.  Against the wall opposite the fireplace was a bed with its shuck mattress and huge, soft feather bed on which Father and Mother slept, and close beside it a box cradle for the baby.  By a window near the door facing the road, Mother had placed a drop-leaf table covered with a red-and-white checkered cloth which hung to the floor.  Many times when someone came sister Jennie would get her new shoes and hide under this table for fear they would get her shoes.  On this table were kept Mother's writing materials and the few treasured books she possessed:  New Testament, concordance, Thomas Moore's poems, Webster's dictionary, books of Biblical reference such as Prince of the House of David, Josephus, City of the Great King and a few others.  Her one book of fiction was The Children of the Abbey, which, as we grew older, she read to us.  Reading aloud from the Bible was a daily occurrence.  An almanac hung by the window within easy reach.  These books she read and studied while sitting in her rocking chair resting and nursing her babies. We four younger ones were born in that old log house.  As the family increased, another bed was needed, so Father went to town in the big wagon and brought home a trundle bed for us girls.  This bed was pushed under the big bed during the day to prevent over-crowding the room.

The floor of the large front room was covered, wall to wall, with a new rag carpet heavily padded with clean straw, and tacked down securely.  How we children loved to walk barefoot on that tightly-stretched, padded carpet!  In one corner of the room was the "company bed" with its clean, white sheets over which was neatly spread Mother's grape-cluster quilt.  On a white background she had appliqued brown and Green vines, green leaves and purple grapes. Her quilting was of the tiniest stitches in pattern of leaves, vines, grapes and curled tendrils all over the quilt, with the exception of the border which was quilted according to its pattern. The under side of the quilt, where the quilting showed to perfection, was as beautiful as the top.  She was pardonably proud of this beautiful quilt.  Large goose-feather pillows leaned against the bed's headboard.  One sham bore the embroidered inscription, "I Slept and Dreamed that Life was Beauty," the other, "I awoke and Found that Life was Duty." The walnut bureau with its framed mirror hanging above stood near the bed.  In another corner were Mother's spinning wheel and wool carders. These were brought into the kitchen-living room when in use. Her sewing machine, which was the only one in that part of the country at that time, stood under a window near the spinning wheel. The horsehair sofa and chairs were properly placed.  A comfortable rocking chair with a fringed linen towel fastened over the high back seemed to invite one to sit and rest a while near the fireplace.  The center of the room was reserved for the marble-top table on which were the large family Bible containing the family records, and the plush-covered album filled with photographs and tintypes of relatives and friends on both sides of the house.  A large coal oil lamp, always clean and shining, stood between the Bible and the album.  Pictures, mottoes and wall pockets hung on the whitewashed walls.  A clock in its wooden case occupied the center of the mantelpiece.  Tall glasses for holding sweet-scented flowers were on each side of the clock. Father's two favorite books, The Lady of the Lake and Robert Burns' poems lay on each end of the mantle.  Father had formerly been a school teacher, and those were saved from his teaching days.

How well do I remember the charm string fastened in wide loops from one end of the mantle to the other, the ends dropping almost to the floor. For those of you who are not familiar with the charm string:  On a strong, waxed cord were strung many different styles of buttons, large and small, collected down through the years from relatives and friends.  Also along the string were attached all sorts of trinkets. The charm string had much the same significance as the patchwork quilt, serving to call to mind this or that friend or relative--either near or far distant, or having passed on--memories of times past, spanning the miles between here and there, and bringing tho dear ones near as we lovingly fingered the buttons and trinkets along the string.  Here we spent much time reminiscing and reliving pleasant past hours.  Dark-green shades and white curtains completed the furnishings of this old-style front room, or parlor as the "higher ups" would call it.

Always on Sunday there was company, and company meant opening and airing the front room.  We children loved those days when we could sit cross-legged or lie flat on our stomachs on that clean, rag carpet, and turn tile pages of the family Bible, with its brightly-colored pictures, or of the plush-covered album and look at the pictures of grown-ups attired in their Sunday best, brides and grooms in wedding finery, children standing or sitting properly--but best of all, I think, I liked the babies in their long, white tucked and ruffled dresses trimmed with delicate laces and embroideries.  To this day I thoroughly enjoy browsing among old pictures, trying to imagine what were the aspirations, the dreams, the hopes that gave grace and poise to one person and sweet, shy bashfulness to another.

One end of the wide hall served as a storehouse for provisions such as barrels of sugar, flour, meal, bags of salt, rice and dry beans, and always in winter there was a large keg of sorghum molasses.  Jugs of honey taken from our own bee hives were lined up against the wall. Father could never go near the hives without being stung.  Then it was Mother's task to apply vinegar-and-soda packs, and such other remedies as were known to country folk in those days.  Mother could work with the bees during long periods of time and ,was rarely stung, therefore it fell to her to rob the hives and bring in the honey.  Always there was sufficient honey left in the hives to insure food for the bees during the winter.  Against the wall separating the hall from the kitchen was Mother’s loom on which she wove the flannel for our winter dresses and petticoats, the boys' and Father's wool shirts and the lovely white wool blankets that kept us warm on cold winter nights.  On the opposite wall, under the stairway, hung the best sets of harness, the men's saddles, Mother' s side saddle and her long black riding skirt.  High above these, beyond the reach of us smaller ones, were the boys' shot guns.  What fun would living in the country be for a boy if he could not shoot squirrels, rabbits, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, quail and snakes?

The well with its "old oaken bucket" was at a convenient distance from tho back door, and furnished us with practically ice-cold water the year-round.  Not far from the kitchen, under large shade trees, was the smokehouse where our meat was cured: delicious hams, shoulders, sides of bacon, salt meat to be cooked with vegetables, sausage packed down in lard, head cheese, pickled pigs' feet and dried beef.  It was here, too, that Mother made lye from hickory-wood ashes.  She always said hickory-wood ashes made the best lye.  She was now ready to make the year’s supply of soap and an ample quantity of corn hominy.

Ofttimes in the cool of the summer morning, after the men had gone to the field, Mother put on her sunbonnet, took a large pail from the bench outside the kitchen door where the pails, pans and crocks were sunned; and went to the pasture where along the rail fence and always in the corners blackberries and dewberries ripened in abundance.  In practically no time she was back with a pail full of large, luscious berries.  Having replenished the fire, she set about making pies for dinner and supper.  There were also plenty of wild plums, gooseberries, black haws and red haws in the woods, all of which Mother and we children gathered enough for present and winter use.

Saturday was a 'busy day for Mother and the older girls. There was bread to bake, loaves and loaves of flaky white bread and salt-rising bread.  Churning must be done to insure fresh, sweet butter for. the Sunday dinner.  Cottage cheese must be made to which, in the morning, a generous amount of rich, sweet cream was added.  Delicious pies and cookies were browned to perfection, and tasty jelly-rolls were made .' A large bowl of beets was cooked and pickled. There must always be large quantities of food because there was no way of telling how many families would come for dinner after attending the service at the little stone church.  The butter moulded and the baking done the floor and cook table were scrubbed clean with warm soapsuds, and everything put in readiness' for Sunday.  Last, there were the baths taken in the big wash tub.

Early Sunday morning a half dozen or more chickens were killed, dressed and put in a large covered pail which was lowered into the well just above the water to keep fresh till time for cooking. Ham and dried beef were brought from the smokehouse and sliced -- Mother's Sunday dinner was not complete unless. she had two or three kinds of meat on the table.  The big black iron pot was filled about two thirds full of green beans which were partly cooked and set aside.  New potatoes were scraped and covered with ,later to be added to the beans when we came from church.  Cucumbers and onions were sliced and covered with vinegar to which sugar and salt had been added. Fresh and canned fruit and two or more varieties of jams and jellies, set out.

Breakfast over and the dishes washed and put away the children were washed, combed and dressed for Sunday school and church.  Since the church was in walking distance of our house, we were sent on ahead to Sunday school. Father and Mother, after finishing up at home, brought the baby and came in time for church service, ofttimes getting there in time for Sunday school. Almost invariably Mother picked up my older sister's fan. from among the wild flowers or under the plum trees growing a little back from the road. If she failed to find it, it was' given to her at church, as all the neighbors were familiar with sister's habit of laying it down to pick flowers or eat plums. Father bought and sold live stock, and could not always go to church on Sunday as he was busy with sellers of stock.

The sermon, songs, prayers and handshakings over, we were rounded up and started home. Since we walked, we could count on three or more families having driven up before we arrived.  Whoever came first went in, built a fire in the stove and started “the pot to boiling." Even now as I write, I imagine I can smell the savory odor of ham and chickens frying and the aroma of coffee steeping for those Sunday dinners.  The women, wearing clean gingham aprons Mother had laid out for them, were visiting and working at the same time; and it was only a short while till they had the delicious meal on the long table.  And how everyone did enjoy those meals!  Father was the proud and jovial host, and Mother the perfect hostess who anticipated the desires of her guests, and, without flurry or interruption of the conversation, passed the right dish at the right time.

The congregation attending our little church was made up mostly of Presbyterians, North and South Methodists and Baptists. Mother and a few others were members of the Christian, or Campbellite church, as it was often called in those days.  The men of the neighborhood had hauled rock, bought lumber and other material required, and furnished labor to build the church with the understanding that the four denominations were each to have charge of the service one Sunday in the month, the fifth Sunday, when there was one, being reserved for a Christian minister to fill the pulpit. As time passed, Some of the other denominations decided that in addition to their regular Sunday, they should also have the fifth Sunday. This was too much for Mother, who was a "real soldier of the cross" when her religion was attacked or slighted.  So she set about consistently praying for the church to fall. Don’t mistake me, she was not doing this through any spirit of spite or vengeance, but was really conscientious and thought she was doing tho right thing.

Hadn't four of her men folk given time, labor and money toward the erection of that church, and should not the members of the Christian church, which in her opinion was the only church, be entitled to have charge of the service on the few fifth Sundays of the year?  Well, "believe it or not," one night a heavy windstorm brought down part of one wall of the building, doubtless due to faultless construction; but no one could ever make Mother believe this.  She had prayed and her prayers had been answered.

In the meantime my half brother had married the daughter of staunch Presbyterian parents. From the tine the storm damaged the church, my sister-in-law lived in mortal fear of incurring Mother’s displeasure and having prayers offered for some dire calamity to befall her.  She warned all her relatives and friends to be very careful, “because when Ed’s Mother prays for anything, she never stops praying till her -prayers are answered.”  This might be a good plan to follow today.  Be that as it may, after the building was repaired there was no further trouble about the fifth Sunday service.

Father, a buyer of stock, was often gone from home several days in succession, '"as always away several days when he shipped his stock to the Kansas City market. Mother and the boys together with the hired hands looked after the farm during his absence.

On many a moonlight summer evening after the chores were done and supper over, we children would lie on a quilt spread on the ground, and try to count the stars in the big and little dippers, the bear and other constellations.  Mother sat on the doorstep with our faithful dog, Shep, lying on the ground at her feet.  Brother Charlie would come with his French Harp (harmonica),. seat himself beside Mother, and entertain us with old-time melodies.. I can truthfully say that no well-trained orchestra of today has a more appreciative audience than did our brother while he played Listen to the Mockingbird, Nelly Gray, Swanee River, Sweet Evalena, The Little Mohea, The Last Rose of Summer, Annie Laurie, Flow Gently Sweet Afton -- Father’s favorite -- Home Sweet Home, and other old-time melodies. From the patch of timber between our house and that of a neighbor about one and one-half miles distant a hoot-owl or a whippoorwill would occasionally sound a mournfully, and the neighbor's hounds often joined in with doleful howls.

On other nights when the boys were out "keeping company" with the country belles, Mother just as most mothers do, lay awake till they came home. Along about midnight, she would say, “they’ll be here in a little while now.  I can hear them coming by the graveyard.  This was literally true, for when a boy turned off the main road to the road through the timber, where a clearing had been made for the cemetery, he whistled a lively tune to keep the ghosts away.  The whistling continued till he was safe inside the home gate.

Always in the fall there were the corn huskings, carpet rag tackings and quilting bees.  These neighborhood gatherings were pleasant sources of recreation as well as means of accomplishing considerable work in an evening. There were the box suppers in the school house where the older children had learned "reading, writing and 'rithmetic."

The harvest had been gathered in, the barn loft filled to. capacity with sweet scented hay and clover, cribs were piled high with red, white and yellow corn.  Meat had been cured, lard rendered, and an abundance of canned fruit, sweet pickle peaches, preserves, jams and jellies stored away.  There were bags of dried peaches and apples for delicious thrn-ober pies fried in the big skillet.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, turnips and apples 'were packed in sand and leaves, covered with straw, and buried in the ground sufficiently deep to prevent their freezing.  How good they did taste when brought up fresh and sweet on cold winter days! Black walnuts were hulled-they were plentiful. in our locality--and spread thinly on the ground out by the wood pile to dry, then taken to the loft and stored away together with hickory nuts, hazelnuts and pop corn.

I shall always look back with pleasure on those long winter evenings when Mother sat before the fire knitting socks, stockings or mittens, and Father nearby reading the "Drovers’ Daily Telegram," while we children roasted eggs, apples and nuts in the wide fireplace, popped pop corn or roasted field corn in the skillet over tho glowing coals.

There is an end to everything, and the end came to our days on the farm.  Mother's brother came and took charge, and we moved to the small town five miles distant where

... ... .... these feet must hide

In the prison cells of pride.”

--Lucy M. Heatherton

August 1948

Lucy Hickman Remembers

Disclaimer:  The pictures have been borrowed from websites for illustration purposes only.