The Crawford Mirror Steelville, Missouri THURSDAY March 1, 1973 Page 11 Prescott, AZ February 7, 1973 Just over a year ago we were visiting in your area and it was a pleasure meeting you and talking of early Steelville and Crawford County. Except for one visit when I was married and brought my wife home in 1919, I had not been back since I left in 1909. Most of my immediate family moved to Oklahoma and elsewhere and I never got back there until this time a year ago. All through one’s life, I suppose, a person keeps remembering and wanting to return to the place where he grew up—and I often thought of Steelville and Crawford County. So at last my eldest son, Paul, my wife and I made the trip and are very happy we did. So much has changed—the whole area is built up with homes, the roads approach old landmarks from different directions, the use of the land is not as it was, and almost all of the old country homes have been lost. But all the same the people are as I had hoped, still an independent and generous people. The welcome we received made us very glad we came. It was this quality in this place that brought back so many new memories that I had not thought of for more than half a century. My people came to Missouri long before it became a state and settled in what became St. Francois County. My Grandfather was born there but came with his brothers and sisters and their parents to Crawford County when the latter took land near the site that today is the present Keysville. My great grandfather had come first (and we think with some of the Keys to whom we are related) looking for a home in this area which then had no white people living in it at all. They rode the country and having decided upon it and picked their places, the men came back another year and then raised corn for at least one summer alone there. Not knowing the Indians as yet, they didn’t winter in the new home but carried the crop back to their homes south of DeSoto in the fall. It was probably the next year that the women and children came. The big log house with the great fireplaces at each end, sleeping loft above and full-length porches front and back was built not long after that. Most people now living in Crawford County will remember it. It was a couple miles above Keysville across the ford of Crooked Creek and up on a rise. Just under it were the barns and the old stone spring-house (all still standing in 1972) and the meadows of the creek. The oldest barns (also still standing) and the fence join the rock face that lifts from the left bank (looking downstream) of Crooked Creek Valley. It stood there from the very beginning but burned only a year ago last August—a great loss, we feel, to the history of Crawford County. My parents were Robert Stewart Stafford and Narcissa Altina Collins and I was born near Cherryville but moved with them and my sisters and brothers in 1889 to the place where I was raised, just out of Steelville. The property now belongs to the city which received it from my sister, Mirta, and Claude Dickson’s son, James Dickson, just a few years ago. The Vinabind building is on it and it seems right to me that the land should help in the publishing of books. Our home was just across the road on the hill where only the foundation of the house my parents built is left, together with the barn and built in 1905 or 06, a few years after mey father died. Our farm partly surrounded the Sankey Station and it was then a thriving little place. The railroad company had the round-house there and machine shops and altogether it supported a number of families. The yards for shipping livestock to the market at St. Louis were here too. It was also the location of an old stone grist mill powered by a water wheel in a mill race from the Yadkin and Whittenberg Creeks. I recall that especially from a time when my brother, Jewell, then about six walked out into it after his brand new straw hat and I ran down and told the miller who jumped in and saved him from drowning. Later this mill was improved to a steam operated grinder and the boiler was heated with cord wood. The owner of the mill, Mr. Riggs, had a home on the hill near our farm. There were five homes on Sankey until about 1900. Besides this there was the Midland Iron Furnace in operations just over a mile downstream from the Sankey Station. It worked a large number of men – not only the furnace but woodcutters, men handling cord wood, burning and charring it in the pits; haulers, many teams both company 4 and 6 mule hitches hauling charcoal, in big wagons in tandem but private teams as well. My father supplied some of these teams and I remember I would try to catch one of the drivers after school because sometimes he (generally Jesse Oxendine) would put me up on the riding mule and I would take them home. I was about 8 or 10 then and always felt it necessary to get some black charcoal smudge on my face somewhere before I could handle the job right. The lead pair was controlled by a jerk line. The iron ore was brought in by railroad from Cherry Valley and was sold-out as pig iron. The Company built a number of houses for their workers and operated a store. There were two school houses – one with two rooms and two teachers at Midland and the other on our farm but operated as a Midland school. I went to the big one until the furnace closed down after the Spanish-American War and then attended the one on our farm. I date this by the memory of a veteran of that war who drove one of our teams and wore his army pants with the stripe down the leg. The presence of the railroad that brought the ore in was a great temptation to the young people of the school. If we found an un-manned hand-car on the track we pushed it up the slope and rode it down at a pretty good clip. One noon we pushed it up very high beyond the hog-back ridge and almost everyone in school got aboard. Unfortunately we hadn’t noticed a cow standing at the rest on the track. When we hit her the student body departed in all directions. It took us the rest of the noon hour to get ourselves collected and we presented ourselves for classes after dinner in pretty bedraggled shape. Our parents found out about it next day. I’m sure anyone who made that ride has no difficulty recalling it. Steelville in the 1890s was a very busy place. Mr. Slack was the editor of the Steelville Mirror. The Bass Mercantile outfitted everyone as did the Haley Store. (My cousin Pearl Stafford married Claude Bass). A Mr. Ives ran a livery barn; Mr. Cooper a lumber yard; the big hotel was on Main Street. The Houston Hotel was near the depot. There was a flour mill owned by Devol and Scott. Mr. Key had a blacksmith shop. There were at least three churches and two restaurants. Professor Hayes was at the College on the top of the hill. The Seminary where my father had gone was across the foot- bridge over the creek behind the Bass Store. My sister, Mirta, attended Steelville Normal and Business Institute and was one of eight in the graduation class of (I think) 1892 – the first one of the first graduations at SN & BI. My brother, Collins, and I also went there as did our sisters, Eula and Okel, and younger brother, Jewell. IT was an unusually good school, I believe, and I regret that it no longer serves the area. We have laughed at your story, Mr. Kehr, about Professor Hayes who revised his decision to expel a certain student for drinking when a young instructor came to the student’s defense. The old professor also made it clear what his future terms were – that if the student drank again while a student at the Normal, not only HE would be expelled but ASLO the young instructor who defended him as well. I remember Professor Hayes very well and this story illustrates his firm expectations of every scholar. The great flood that occurred suddenly in the 1890s was a terrible tragedy to Steelville. Thirteen people were drowned and much property was destroyed in Steelville and around it. I found the body of a young girl (I think her name was Harmond) which had been carried down along the creek. My father heard a man (Mr. Stough) calling for help from a tree at daylight and got out to him and brought him back. Probably that flash flood had most to do with the drainage system of Steelville being arranged as it is today. Transportation to St. Louis about 1900 centered on the railroad, of course. Later two trains ran to St. Louis each day and the excursion fare was about $1.50 round trip. The ride from Sankey to Steelville was 5 cents and the train would pick up and stop and let off a person for that price. My Uncle Joe Stafford and Hartford Collins had livery barns in Ironton and in Pilot Knob, and they would come through the sixty miles to Steelville in one day with a good team and buggy. Most people would take a wagon and then it was a two day trip. In spite of difficulties families were always making trips and camping together on holidays. Without television or movies or radio or cars then, people had to make their own entertainment. Sports of many kinds were practiced. Almost every boy did some boxing in those days – just for the fun of it. About 1906 two men were generally considered the best in the area: Martin (I do not presently recall his first name) and Huitt (whose last name may be properly spelled otherwise). These two in all good nature fought three formal bare-knuckle fights on their own challenges just to see who was the better. Those were great events to me, particularly because we are related to both parties. Charley Rogers was another well known bare-knuckle boxer in those days. He later became a lawyer. It was he who schooled me in the art when I was a student at Steelville Normal. He had been a professional and sparring-mate in the training camps of Jack Sharkey who once fought for the world championship as I recall. We played football too, then (without headgear or much padding) but THE great game was baseball. I liked it most, too, and started playing with the men’s team when I was sixteen. The whole country was ball-crazy then with lots of good players. When I left Steelville it was to play pro ball and I followed it to Texas and New Mexico, and north to Dakota where the Cleveland Indians’ scout Bill Thompson offered me a tryout in July of 1910. But I had just drawn land north of the Black Hills then when that country was opening with lots of excitement to go there – so I took the fork to the West instead. When I went into northern plains of western South Dakota, the lonely settlements were just beginning – a few tent towns. I built up a cow outfit and had a Livery and Feed Barn and later ran sheep as well. Here I met my wife, Klara, Norway-born but now a school teacher, who with her father and brothers and sister had been among the first of the homesteaders. Our first son, Paul Locken, was born in our long ranch house after I made a twenty-five mile ride by horseback one night for the doctor where our only neighbors were the Sioux who had been on the Little Big Horn against Custer. He was the first white child to be born in that area on Thunder Butte Creek and got his Sioux name along with the one we gave him. In 1926 I went into the U.S. Government Service, the Indian Bureau, on the Cheyenne River Reserve there where we lived. Later I transferred to the Fort Belknap Reserve on the Milk River in northern Montana among the Assinaboine and Gros Ventre. It is here our second son, Richard, was born. When the old U.S. Alaska Reindeer Service was created in 1931, I received the first appointment to that organization. In September, just before freeze-up we arrived in the little Eskimo village north off Nome where we were to live for several years. It was the last village but one from Siberia where there was only a trading post – no doctor or any service that we did not ourselves provide. The first-class mail came once a month by dog-team. And it was by dog-team I traveled the reindeer ranges in the dark time of the year until the spring break-up. In those winters I have seen the dogs blow down on trail and whine and the coal-oil for the Primus stove turn to slush INSIDE our snow shelter on the Arctic slope. If we were lucky the old Coast Guard Cutter NORTHLAND would break through the ice to our village by the Fourth of July and fire her guns in celebration. Then with the first boat we received our Christmas mail, newspapers, and our order of food from the Outside – the states. Springtime in the Arctic is like an explosion. Flowers come up through the snow before it is entirely melted and bloom strongly. Geese and ducks and crane and a hundred other kinds of birds fill the tundra with their nesting. I have seen Eskimo load a skin-boat, their big oomiak, with new-laid duck eggs from a single small island. These they put in sewed-up seal hides with seal oil and have a perfect winter preservation. Salmon choke the streams so that when they die after spawning, the smell of their dead carcasses makes approach to some streams almost impossible. The whale are regularly in sight off-shore and if a village takes a whale or two a season they can live well. Walrus and seal, foxes of several species, wolves following the reindeer, the Polar and Big Brown Bear and Grizzly and the tough Wolverine were all common animals. Two wolves killed on this range were weighed in at 185 and 186 pounds each. On one occasion a big Brown Bear (close kin to the famous Kodiak Bear) even came right into the edge of our village and we got him after a long chase on the sea ice. In summer I traveled along the coasts and up the river with the Eskimo by walrus-hide skin-boats to the reindeer herds. Then ashore it was afoot with pack-deer, living mostly off the tundra as we went. I had corrals built in that treeless land of driftwood that we hauled from the coast up the rivers by oomiak. And is the midnight sun of summer we marked and steered and counted deer by the tens of thousands. On one such summer our daughter, Patricia, was born in Nome where my wife had gone south by chartered float plane to the only hospital. M eldest son and I learned of the arrival of the newest member of our family by word of mouth shouted from a landing boat at Cape Prince of Wales, in sight of Siberia, when she was already eleven days old. I was later transferred to Nome and in 1935 and 1936 was advanced to head the Alaska Reindeer Service as General Reindeer Superintendent. In those years the reindeer in Alaska reached their peak numbers of about 640,000 head. They then ranged from Aleutian Islands north around the coast past Bering Strait to Pt. Borrow and on east to the McKenzie River and Canadian Arctic. I protested then that the numbers were exploding beyond the carrying capacity of the reindeer-moss feed but the distances to those who legislation could have helped were too great. No one was convinced in time and the numbers have fallen far from those vast numbers. Today there are probably no more than 50,000 head in Alaska. The call of that country is still strong and my oldest son is returning there this summer to prospect on the Arctic Slope. In 1936 we came back to the states with my transfer to the new federal agency, the Grazing Service, now known as the Bureau of Land Management. The public domain range lands to be administered then totaled more than 150 million acres and were still virtually unfenced. Cattle and sheep on vast numbers ran on those ranges. In the lands going into the Cascades and Steens Mountains of Oregon alone I counted sheep bands numbering in the hundreds of thousands of head. It was our duty to apportion the use of these public domain lands in a fair manner for the use of individual live-stockmen. We fought plagues if mice and rabbits in those years and locusts that ate everything in their path – even the bark off the juniper fence posts, it seemed. We built water-holes, dams, roads, and drift fences; one ran more than a hundred miles straight as an arrow west from Glass Buttes in Central Oregon to the forest boundary. The labor was almost entirely under the old C.C.C. and I had eleven Civilian Conservation Camps in my districts. Many of the old cow-men then still alive had come by wagon train over the Oregon Trail from Missouri as boys. They were a real breed of men, all of them determined in their rights but almost to a man generous and honesty willing to find fair settlement of all the range problems we then had. And this was at a time when range and especially water rights were being strongly fought for. There was one killing in my Districts over water and another unexplained, though. But these years were full ones in my life and from it came friends and experience I would not trade away. In World War II I was detached to serve as Liaison Officer on General Alexander Patch’s staff to work between the U.S. Army and the lands used. After my retirement from the U.S. Department of the Interior not long following the war, I have owned and operated a cattle ranch with our oldest son in Eastern Oregon. Since 1966 we have been traveling – spending two of those years in Central America. But my return to Steelville a year ago was a very special occasion in all this long time. It was then I came to realize that Steelville had always gone with me on the plains of Dakota and Montana and the deserts of the West. And I remembered, too, blizzard camps on the trail in the Arctic night when its streets and people of Crawford County came clearly to me there just as they once had when I was a boy. I am very grateful for what I received from Steelville when I was growing up and in a very special way it has always been and will always remain “home” to me. I would be pleased to hear from and of my relatives and friends if they would care to write. My daughter forwards my mail while I am traveling.
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