Excerpts from Two from the Country
By Thomas J. Caruthers and Francis M. Kinder
Editor’s note: The following anecdotes are excerpted from a privately printed booklet Two from the Country, which was written and published by Thomas J. Caruthers and Francis M. Kinder in 1961. A copy of this booklet was provided by one of their decedents, John Stanard. Stanard is the former editor and co-owner of the Daily American Republic, which was published by his family from 1916 to 1988. A native of Poplar Bluff, he is the fifth generation of his family to have lived in Butler County. Besides the thousands of newspaper articles he wrote in a 30-year career, his other published works include Butler County: A Pictorial History, Volume I, Butler County: A Pictorial History, Volume II, and Caring for America: The Story of Family Practice.
Thomas J. Caruthers was born near the Perry County crossroad community of Yount and attended the one-room Bess School. He graduated from the Cape Girardeau State Normal School in 1908 and then taught at Campbell, Missouri, High School. He later served as head of the mathematics department at Central High School in Cape Girardeau and earned a bachelor’s in education at the State Teacher’s College in Cape Girardeau. He later earned a MA in public school administration at Columbia University in New York, and he then spent thirty years as director of teacher education at the State Normal School in Salisbury Maryland. He also earned a doctorate in education at New York University.
Francis M. Kinder was born in the tiny Bollinger County community of Buchanan on January 8, 1883. He graduated from the State Normal School at Cape Girardeau in 1907. He then earned his law degree from University of Missouri in 1910 and soon began practicing law in Poplar Bluff. He was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1916 and was elected prosecuting attorney of Butler County in 1920. He later served as the Butler County magistrate judge in Missouri’s 36th judicial circuit.
From the Introduction
If a purpose is called for in the writing of these events we will say only that we believe it will enrich the memories of those who have been brought up in the country as well as those who are acquainted with rural life.
Perhaps the three most fertile focal points for significant expressions to originate are the country store, the farm, and the country church. Hence, while no rigid classification of the items will be followed, many of them are taken from the experience in a country store which an uncle by the name of Henry Yount established after he returned from service in the cavalry of the Union Army. He was a stalwart, six feet three inches tall and weighed about two-hundred-twenty pounds. He came from the war with a rebel bullet between the bones of his right fore-arm. This rendered him unable to chop the virgin forest as did his three brothers who settled on farms near him. This mishap caused him to start store keeping in a one-room log house. During these years he acquired two-hundred-ninety-seven acres contiguous to the store and home property. Here he raised a family of five children plus four children who had been orphaned by the death of both the father and mother. The writer was one of those orphaned. He vividly remembers the kindness, the thoughtfulness, and kind but firm discipline of this intelligent man. It goes without saying that he had a fine wholesome sense of humor as anyone who had the good fortune to know him will discover in many of the items included in the write-ups.
From Thomas J. Caruthers
Uncle Henry Slinkard lived about four miles across the low rolling hills from our country store. On one occasion he was preparing oak boards, or shingles, in order to put a new roof on his barn. In the process of splitting and trimming a board, his sharp double-bit ax glanced from the wood, struck his foot and made a considerable gash in his foot. Well, this excited the whole family. The youngsters were sent to the barn loft to gather cobwebs to be used in stopping the flow of blood. In the meantime his wife had prepared a salty meat-rind to cover the wounded area to keep the wound soft, and presumably, to prevent infection, whatever that was. Since work was suspended and all were a bit excited they decided to “go to the store.” The writer recalls seeing the family dismount from the farm wagon and assist Uncle Henry into the store where he took a chair near the front door. Other neighbors came in and, of course, would ask the inevitable question, “Well, Uncle Henry, what is the matter with your foot?” Whereupon Uncle Henry with some gusto and with a flavor of heroism would proceed from the beginning and relate every detail as to how it all happened. During the course of the morning this story was repeated many times. Eventually he seemed to tire a bit and would short-cut by leaving out a part of the story. Among the customers there were some four or five boys who listened and learned the entire story. When Uncle Henry began to leave out much of the story the boys conceived the idea of having a bit of fun. They went out on the store porch and came in one by one and asked the question, “Uncle Henry, what is the matter with your foot?” He politely started the story for the first boy but when he would omit any part, the boy, knowing the whole story, would prompt him with questions and force him to tell it all. A second boy came in and did the same thing and one could see Uncle Henry’s patience waning. When the third boy came in and asked the question, Well, Uncle Henry, what is the matter with your foot?” he crisply replied “By God, I hurt it.”
Uncle Jerry Powers lived on a long dry ridge which was known in our community as “Dry Bone.” It might have been due to the environment which caused Uncle Jerry to adopt a very effective method of relieving this dryness. His home was just about nine miles from the county seat, Perryville, Missouri. This was a town of about fifteen hundred people and was supplied with seven saloons. Now, Uncle Jerry came to this town about every two weeks and each and every time he would get drunk. He expected to and all the neighbors expected him to get drunk. One bright June morning Uncle Jerry “got dry” and started to town. As he was passing one neighbor called to him and said, “Hello, Uncle Jerry, are you going to town?” He answered, “Yes, goin’ to town to get drunk and damned if I don’t dread it.”
Uncle “Ab” Bess was a large rotund, red-faced man well supplied with semi-gray whiskers. He was jolly and cheerful by nature and was always entertaining. He had large fat hands made hard and calloused by manual labor. One day while he was building fence he started to drive a staple (“steeple”) and struck one finger on the side and, as was described, he just “caved it off” for about two inches. Whereupon Uncle Ab dropped his hatchet, held up his finger, began to whistle, and started to the house. When he arrived at the house his wife, Mariar, said, “My God, Ab, what has happened to you?” Uncle Ab just held up his finger and said, “Look there, Mariar, I came damn near missin’ it.”
Uncle Henry Yount was an Uncle and foster father of the writer and his two brothers and one sister. He had five children of his own, only three of whom lived to maturity. His wife, Mary Jane Counts, was of sturdy stock and an effective helpmate during the rise of the country store and the culture which developed around it. To add to the portrayal of Uncle Henry’s personality the writer recalls a number of incidents in which he was directly concerned. One was concerning the “rattle snake medicine.” Uncle kept a jug of whiskey, “corn” or otherwise under the post office desk. Since he was managing a three-hundred-acre farm it was necessary for him to visit the fields and other areas. As he would leave the store he would usually say, “There are a lot of rattle snakes in that field, so I’d better take a dose of rattle snake medicine before I go.” Thus spoken he would imbibe some of the contents of the jug. He was never known to be bitten by a rattle snake.
The old homestead with its general store, its blacksmith shop, a church and a doctor’s office together with three dwellings constituted a fertile community center which was replete with country lore and an abundant variety of characters, or personalities some of which are above presented. It was the good fortune of the writer to have grown from childhood to maturity on this old homestead when it was at its best as a rural community. And he also lived to see its decline. The old store dwindled away and the store house became a place to store baled hay and other farm products, the doctor’s office became permanently vacated, and the houses suffered from the need of fresh paint and repairs. The blacksmith died and left his shop to literally fall to pieces. Only the church and graveyard remain in good condition and are still serving their functions in the community.
From Francis M. Kinder
We worked hard, not because we liked to work, but because the rules of our house required everybody to work.
We grew corn, wheat, oats and hay as main crops to feed livestock. For food for the family to eat we grew potatoes, turnips, cabbage, lettuce, onions, beets, parsnips, peas, beans planted with the corn so they could climb the corn stalks and likewise, pumpkins were planted with the corn, which served both the family and the other animals for food. For sweetening in the diet we grew sugar cane from which molasses was made.
We had a five-acre orchard growing pears, apples and peaches, all seedlings. When it was planted grafting and crossing were unknown. This orchard furnished fruit for all the neighbors as well as our family, and all were welcome to carry away apples so long as they used only those fallen to the ground. These were abundant and it was the custom for neighbors, too indolent to plant their own trees, to come with bags and baskets and carry away what they needed for food.
The following varieties were there in abundance, red June and yellow June apples, the earliest cooking apples then known; pie apples, a small red-streaked summer apple perfect for cooking; the horse apple, the russet, the pipin, Ben Davis, the winter green, the red sweet apple, the slick green sweet apple, the Winesap, the Rambo, the rusty sweet apple, the sour apple, the limber twig and crab apple that made most delicious preserves.
Of pears we had three varieties, the sugar pear, the Bartlett and a variety we knew as the hard pear, which was excellent for throwing at other boys.
This orchard was cultivated annually, not for the grain raised but for the good of the trees. By midsummer, however, the weeds and corn were generally horse high and a perfect setting for boys to engage in battles with green apples, loads of which always fell from the trees during the growing season. It was especially thrilling to a boy when he could steal upon another boy Indian fashion and sting him with a hard green apple as a surprise. Many were the summer afternoons when shouts and laughter could be heard from all quarters, with occasional screams of crying from the smaller fry or from the un-initiated. The only restraint was from the shouted orders of my 6 foot 4 inch father who demanded that no one should pull apples from the trees for the purpose of throwing. The penalty for any violation was a sound thrashing, which we never got, although he most certainly knew that we occasionally did just that.
After canning, eating and drying, (now called dehydrating) an abundance of fruit for our family, and filling a fifty-gallon barrel with cider which fermented into pure apple vinegar, and storing the winter apples in the cellar, or in the ground, the remainder that were not carried away by neighbors were later fed to the hogs which were always turned into the orchard to be fed corn and fattened. These animals were to be converted into bacon in the late fall and winter.
We slaughtered from fifteen to twenty hogs each fall and early winter and sold the rest, if any, “on foot,” as my father called it. Then for days after “hog killin’” there was plenty of work, curing the meat and hanging it in the smoke house and smoking it. The smoking was done by putting hickory chips and chunks of woods to smolder (not blaze) on the damp earth in a broad box placed on the floor of the smoke house under the meat. This procedure had to be followed every twenty or thirty minutes for days. This duty seemed to always devolve upon me.
Then there was the grinding of the sausage and storing it, rendering the lard to the amount of at least one barrel. Any amount not used by the family was sold on the market before the next “hog killin’” time. So also, the leftover bacon was sold, sometimes for as much as 10c a pound. Additional provenders consisted of a fifty-gallon barrel of sorghum, a like amount of kraut, twenty gallons of pickled cucumbers and beets, and all the available fruit cans were filled with berries, tomatoes and other edible products. It must be noted that if one in those days was to eat and maintain good health, this system was necessary as there were no packing companies and no stores available.