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“Will you step into my parlor?”, said a spider to a fly...

The Old Spider was a steely ribbed adventurer appointed to finish the term of Stone County’s first schoolmaster, James Torbett, who became ill after three days on the job.   On the first day of school, 6-year old Jack Short maneuvered his head through the cracks in the little schoolhouse’s log walls and got it stuck.  We might well imagine all that ensued during Master
Torbett’s remaining two days.   The year was 1871 and Torbett was paid $32.50 a month.   Z.T. Snyder  “...must have been of stronger fiber, for ...he finished his school on November 8, 1871.”  (from Stone  County Newspapers’ Edition, 1951.)  Snyder was promptly dubbed Old Spider by the ornery boys of  Stone County’s first public school, Sub-District Number 2.

It would be most amusing to observe the Old Spider’s reaction to sharing this writeup with a colorful cast of characters who came on the scene some twenty years later.  Each were highly respected businessmen, yet as a whole were good-naturedly regarded as a no-account, fun-loving, hard-drinking minnow tribe. They called themselves The Mollyjoggers.

“Have You Heered When The Mollyjoggers Is A Comin’ Down?”

Sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century, on a balmy November morning, two wagons, loaded with tents, camping equipment, a “diminutive negro”, several bird dogs and a celebrity troupe of rascals known as The Mollyjoggers, made their way from South Street to Campbell, “rolling leisurely” to Nixa, turning west for a mile, then south until reaching the mouth of the Finley River at about four o’clock.  A passal of hound dogs and Wid Crumpley, an honorary member of the club, welcomed the wagon party.  The goings-on, tall tales, practical jokes, and etcetera that followed is written about, most often “in dialect” (Dutch, Irish, Swedish and so on), by the talented Mollyjogger John Dunckel, manager of the Dunckel Box and Lumber Company.   Dunckel, born in Switzerland, received very little formal education, yet authored Mollyjoggers Tales of  the Campfire  with great flair and artistry.   Published in 1905, this piece of riverfork history is now housed in The Springfield Library Center’s rare book section.

The founder and only president of the Mollyjoggers was one Cyrus Patterson, described as painting houses for a living and the town for sport.  Four others joined: Captain Reid, Gus Clements, John White and John Crenshaw.  After the death of Clements and departure of Reid, five more upstanding citizens were inducted:   W.S. Headley, Lon. Routt, Billy Massey, Ed. Burke and John Dunckel.  These ten men were the only official members for the duration of the Mollyjoggers Hunting and Fishing Club’s existence, and when the last of them passed on, the mortal life of the club likewise danced away into the heavens.

In 1904, John Dunckel traveled to Kansas City to persuade Eugene Ware, owner of what became the official Mollyjogger campground and lodge house, to sell. Ware had fallen in love with the riverfork area while serving as a Union Calvaryman in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.  Upon becoming acquainted with the true character and dignity of the notoriously popular club members, he granted them a lifetime lease.   In turn, the Mollyjoggers granted Ware and his son honorary membership.

The Mollyjoggers’ wagons rattled down to their jolly campground twice a year.  Highly successful businessmen, the group came by their name following the exit of an old mountaineer from one of their riotous camps.   He turned around and keenly observed that:  “I’ve knowed you’uns fer many a year in your stores in Springfield, and never ‘lowed they wus any fun in ye, but out here on the crick ye are jest like a lot of mollyjoggers.” (Mollyjoggers are small, spotted, allegedly worthless minnow fish.)

When they weren’t hunting and fishing, the Mollyjoggers were playing jokes and telling tales, one outdoing  another. They gave each other camp names:  Postal, Julia, Pa, Eel, Baldy, Hawkins, Phoebe and Muldoon.  Oliver Gardner of Jamesville, Missouri,  and his brother Tom, of Marionville, fondly remember  the kindness and entertainment provided by the band of merry men.   Tom says that they always shared  wonderful mealtime repasts with welcome passersby and gave leftovers to local families.  It’s a known fact that they delighted in sharing the “white mule.”  One of the better white mule stories was given to
me by longtime Jamesville resident Dude White.  It seems that old Peg Leg Nelson, who lost his leg in the Civil War, imbibed quite heavily one evening whilst sitting around a jovial Mollyjogger’s campfire.  Next morning, his wooden leg was missing.   The rascals told Peg Leg he must have forgotten that he’d already lost that leg when he arrived at the camp.  In truth, they had
thrown his leg in the river.   All in fun...

In honor of the Irish this March 2000, here is a little story taken from Dunckel’s own Tales  of the Campfire book:

Moving Hell

     I will tell you a little story about two Irishmen who had just landed.  These two patlanders had taken a room in a cheap lodging house in New York, and one night as they were sleeping, Mike was awakened by the sound of the fire bells and the rattling of the many fire engines and other fire wagons.  After standing the din and noise for some time, he went to the window.  Soon a fire engine passed by, puffing smoke and steam and throwing sparks as high as the room in which he was.
     “Barney, git up, git up, an’ see fwhat they are doing down in the street!”    Barney, who was very sleepy, just blurted out, “Oh, shut up,” and rolled over to go to sleep again.
     The fire was evidently a large one, for another engine rolled by, and shortly after, two more came puffing and steaming along.
     “Barney!” yelled Mike, “git up and come here, quick, yez never seen the loikes av this befure.”
     Barney sat up in bed and sleepily inquired of the excited Mike, “Fwhat is ut?”    “By th’ howly St. Patirck,” said Mike, “they are movin’ hell, an’ three loads have gone by already.”

Julia was the teller of this tale.  When it ended, Hawkins remarked that  he wasn’t Irish, but the first time he saw a fire engine in St. Louis, he ran to a policeman to be saved.  Postal came along next to tell his story in Swedish dialect...  And so the campfire tales went--under a canopy of stars, with the James drifting alongside,  flickering flames warming the night air, the hoot owls a hootin’ and all manner of wild critters watching from the darkness.  The semi-annual visits delighted many a  pioneer family who eagerly looked forward to the time of year the “Mollyjoggers were a comin’ down.”

It is most appropriate to conclude this Old Spider (O’ McSpider) with Baldy’s toast to the Irish:

The Irishman’s Toast
Here’s to the land of the Shamrock so green;
Here’s to each lad and his darling Colleen;
Here’s to the flag we love dearest and most;
May God bless Old Ireland--that’s an Irishman’s toast.

True to the Mollyjoggers’ undying spirit is Dunckel’s last sentence in Tales of  the Campfire:

     “And now, my dear readers, in the language of our good old friend, Wid Krumpley, ‘That’s all they are to it.’ “

The End!

* (Illustration and  material on the Mollyjoggers taken from John Dunckel’s book The Mollyjoggers, Tales of the Camp-Fire, pub. 1905,  from “Author of Mollyjoggers”,Springfield Leader, June 15, 1906, and personal interviews.)

© March 17, 2000