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Down on the farm

Down on the farm
Out of the woods.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Preacher Gray & Jesse James

Dick' grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider minister. He farmed outside of Allerton,IL and was also the editor of the local paper. He was not a young man when he married Orpha Jane and started a second family. But the exciting story is that he rode with Jesse James! Ha! a connection with my family! I was intrigued but like most of the family thought the story apocryphal.
It seems that Grandpa was driving the old wagon into town one day and saw a stranger along side the road. A battered saddle rested beside him, but no horse was in evidence. Grandpa offered him a ride into town and as they went, they talked. There is no record of the conversation, either by hearsay or guesstimate, but at some point a group of men overtook them on horseback.
"You need a ride, Jesse?" one of them asked.
"Nah, I'm doing OK, Frank" the man in the wagon replied.
And that is where the family story ended.
Fast forward to the mid 1990s. Son Geoff called one night all excited. He had been watching "Biography" on the History Channel and the subject was Jesse James. In an interview the great grandson told of Jesse's being "born again" after a wagon ride with a parson on a dusty old road in Illinois.
Fall back again to a Franklin County MO story that tells of my great grandfather and a group of neighbors building a church in the hills near the farm. A stranger stopped and offered to help. He worked hard, shared a meal and was gone. No one was sure who he was, but this was Union country and there were suspicions.
When my mother was a young girl a huge cavern was discovered across the road from her grandparent's farm. In the cave were artifact from the years following the Civil War including some things that were supposed to have belonged to a notorious outlaw.
I grew up visiting that cave, known across the country as Mermac Caverns, Jesse James hideout.
The wagon ride and the church raising fit nicely...and maybe they are true.

The Old Ice House.

Franklin County was a Union county. They didn't appreciate Jerry Campbell's Rebel sympathies but when push came to shove they took care of their own, even the adopted ones.
The Union needed cannon fodder and the foolish farm boys had quit signing up...probably because the previous "fodder" had come home on crutches, missing eyes, arms, or legs. Too many were not coming home ever, lost in a field or a ditch. Even the dreamiest eyed fool could see this was not the way to glory.
The fields were going untended without enough hands and feet to plow, plant and reap. A woman could plow, sow, reap, cook, wash, only as much as one woman could do. A child was help, but only help. A child could not go out and plow on her own until she was well grown. It wasn't the gender, it was the numbers. It wasn't lack of strength, it was lack of numbers. Farms require hands. So when the 'conscriptors' came to Franklin County looking for recruits, Grandma took the "boys" and hid them in the woods behind the old ice house in Union. She and the girls took baskets of food to them every day until the feds had gone and the boys could come back to the fields.
We, the family, don't remember the names of the boys or the girls, but we all know what Grandma did to save her family during the war.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jerry Reb

We were at a family funeral. I didn't get to attend many, living several states away, but this one coincided with a visit. It might have been Uncle Charley's or Aunt Maude Brown"s, but I am not sure. An elderly relative, seen seldom, known more through story than sight. There were cousins there I had not seen since childhood, others I had never met at all. All of Franklin County is related in some way. They were mostly my mother's cousins, many some degree of distance, second cousin, once removed. Most of my generation lived at a distance or were working.
We stood in the church talking family talk with those who remembered when. Always curious about family "secrets" I asked cousin Myron about Grandpa Jerry, my grandfather's father. No one has been able to trace his origins back any further than the Civil War when he arrived in Franklin County, a decidedly pro-Union county, with a wife, Mary Elizabeth and small children.
Now mind you, we were a family who knew our people. We KNEW Great Grandpa fought in the Revolution and got his plot of land in payment. We knew who married who and who moved where. We kept track of these things.
Well, not too long after they arrived Mary Elizabeth died. Saddled with young children, Jerry remarried soon changing wives but not names. Mary Elizabeth Gideon was his second bride.
And now the story gets guessy.
How did an incomer, a stranger, marry into one of the oldest families of Franklin County, an insular kind of a place to say the least? We know that with the war on there may have been a shortage of marriageable men. Maybe Grandpa Gideon needed help on the farm. Maybe ME the II was besot and determined. Nonetheless it seems a bit odd, viewing the information passed on by Mom's cousin Myron at the family funeral.
In true Franklin County style Myron remarked offhandedly, "Grandpa Jerry was a rebel, and the neighbors didn't like it much."
Matthew Nettle was my great grandfather. He was a farmer in Franklin Co. MO from about the time of the Civil War through WWI, I think. A man with a twinkle in his eye and a love for things that little boys are made of such as snips, and snails and puppy dog tails.
Mom (Blanche H. Campbell Downs) tells that Grandpa would come into the kitchen with his shirt rippling and a big grin on his face. He would pull out little green snakes or big black snakes, curling them around his arms and stroking them lovingly. Grandma Nettle was not fond of things that crawl, but her only admonishment would be a tiny shake of the head and a sad "Why, Matthew..." I suspect she had learned that a greater reaction brought larger true little boy fashion. But we'll never know, now, will we?