TALL TALES AND TRUE STORIES
BY KATHRYN BOWMAN-PARKS
My mother, Florence Stults Bowman, told me several stories about one or more of her Missouri grandmothers. I wish I had asked her which grandmother she was talking about, but I didnít. I believe the stories about the fire and the soldier may have been about the Battle of Bloody Kansas. Two of my great-grandmothers lived near the Kansas border.
Grandmother in the Slave Quarters
One of Motherís grandmothers was a child during the Civil War. Although her family didnít own slaves, slaves would play an important part in her life.
One night, Union soldiers were supposed to be coming to attack the settlement where Great-grandmother lived. The soldiers knew that the large settlement was neutral, but they were afraid that it would one day side with the Confederates. The rumor was that the soldiers were going to burn and pillage the town. With the men away, the women and children didnít know what they were going to do to protect themselves.
The raid did take place that night. Some of the slaves, who belonged to neighboring plantations, took the women and children and hid them in the slave quarters so that the Union soldiers couldnít find them. This probably saved their lives.
Most of the Stults families remained neutral during the Civil War. They were for Stateís Rights and believed that each state should rule itself. They did not believe in slavery and felt that if you owned land, then you should be willing to work on it.
Another grandmother story concerned the burning of a town. Mother said that she went to visit her grandmother who owned the whole town where she lived. She said that while she was visiting, the town caught on fire and burned to the ground. Mother watched as the town burned. Iwant to find this town and information to corroborate Motherís story. She may have been referring to the burning of a town during the Civil War. Her grandmother may have told her about it. Some of the time, her memory wasn't clear.
Mother told me the story of one of her grandmothers who was always taking care of her neighbors. She said that one evening the old lady took food to a neighbor who was ailing at the time. Great-grandmother started for home, but the night was dark and it was difficult to see. My memory is not clear about this part of the story. Great-grandmother may have been blind. She did, however, fall into a deep abandoned mine shaft (or was it a well?). Since she was still a good distance from home, the family didn't know she had fallen in. They searched through the night for her. Early next morning they found her dead at the bottom of the shaft.
Is this the end of Motherís sad, short story? No, it isnít. Hereís "the rest of the story." In 1983, shortly before her own death, she related this story to my children Chris Parks and Kim Parks Schaal. She told them a part of the story I had never heard. Mother told them that she was a small child when her grandmother fell in the shaft and that she had seen her fall in. Instead of tell her family about the incident, she was frightened and ran to hide. She said that she still felt guilty about not telling someone about the fall. It wouldnít have helped save Great-grandmother; she broke her neck and died instantly.
My next story concerns the cemetery where Sarah and Dudley Stults are buried and the adventures Joe Parks, my husband, and I had while trying to locate it.
The Lost Cemetery or The Long, Long Trailer
Several years ago, Joe and I took a trip to Branson, Missouri. I knew my great-grandparents Sarah and Dudley Stults had been buried near the small community of Avola in Vernon County, Missouri. Avola wasnít listed on any map, but Vernon County was located just north of Joplin, Missouri. That was where I wanted to start my search for my great-grandparents.
Joe and I started for home, from Branson, early one Sunday morning. Now was my chance. I convinced Joe to help me in my search. He wasnít very enthusiastic about the project because it was Sunday and most places that could provide information were closed. He would be towing a 26 foot trailer, in the wrong direction, and the temperature was going to be over 100 degrees that day. This did not encourage him, but it didnít discourage me. Sometimes I can be persistent in my pursuits.
Joe thought he would humor me for a little while and then I would give up the hopeless search. He didnít believe it was possible to find an unlisted settlement in a strange county and state. Little did he know that I wasnít about to give up the search easily.
We proceeded north of Joplin and crossed into Vernon County. "Where to now?" Joe asked me politely. I didnít know what to say so I told him to exit the highway at the first town we came to. He dutifully did as I asked and we entered an old, rundown town. Everything in town was either closed or boarded up. There was only one car parked on the entire street. Everyone else was at home asleep or at the local church. I asked Joe to pull over near the parked car, but he drove right on past it. He said he couldnít find a good place to park, but I was sure that he was too embarrassed to stop.
We circled the block one more time and Joe found a parking place this time. I jumped out of the truck before he could change his mind about stopping and I went up to the antique store by the parked car. I could see a man inside of the store so I tapped on the door and asked if I could speak to him for just a minute or two. He was preparing to open his store at noon and he seemed very busy. The man politely stopped what he was doing and invited me in.
After I got into the store, I told him about my grand-parents and how they were buried somewhere in the county. I told him that he would probably think I was crazy, but I was looking for the settlement of Avola and a cemetery near it. I didnít have much hope that he would know anything about Avola and I was embarrassed when I asked about it. "Sure I know where it is!", he said. "Avola is just across the main highway and about five miles up the road. I have heard that there is a small cemetery just off on a side road near there." He gave me further details of how to find it and I went back to the truck not able to believe what had just happened.
Although, Joe was surprised that I had found out the information about Avola, he was still not enthusiastic about the prospect of pulling that trailer down dusty back roads. He reluctantly decided to follow my directions. We found Avola easily, but we didnít know which road to take to the cemetery. Joe sat in the truck again as I brazenly knocked on one door after another until I found a nice lady who gave me directions to the cemetery. Back in the truck, I told Joe he would haveto turn the trailer around and head back toward town for a short distance. Now that is not as easy as it sounds. First, you have to find a place to back the trailer into so that you can go in the opposite direction. Joe did and we headed back.
We found the back road and turned down it not knowing if there would be a place to turn the trailer around so we could get back out of there. After driving down the road a while, we came to a steep hill. I was afraid we couldnít make it down and back up it again with the trailer, so I convinced Joe to park it and continue down the road on foot.
The temperature was reaching 100 degrees when we started our walk down the hill. We had our little poodle, Maggie, with us and this complicated matters even more so. We were hot and tired when we came to the top of the next hill and we didnít know if we could continue on or not. Even I was about ready to call it quits. Then we saw it on top of the next hill! The cemetery was really there after all and we had found it.
There were still more obstacles to face when we finally reached the cemetery. There was a fence around it and the gate was locked so we had to climb over it. We hoped we wouldnít be caught trespassing. Since the day was hot, we were all hot and tired from our walk and climb. There was only one shade tree in the cemetery and we decided that Joe would stand under it with Maggie and I would check half the tombstones for my great-grandparentsí name. I was too excited to wait. If I didnít find them, he would search the other half of the cemetery while I waited with her.
Since we had entered the cemetery from the back side, all of the stones were facing away from us. I approached the first grave site nearest to the entrance. I came up behind the large stone and walked around it to the front. There it was, the large tombstone belonged to Sarah and Dudley Stults, my motherís grandparents who had died from the flu that had killed her parents. My eyes filled with tears of exhaustion and gratitude. My dream had come true and I had found them. These were the same people who had raised my grandfather and held my very own mother when she was a baby. I felt as though I had been guided to this spot by a higher force than my own ability. Maybe God had led me to the man who had helped me find my ancestors.
Well, Joe did get the trailer turned around and we made it back to the highway and headed due south. He still couldn't believe that I had found my great-grandparents with such a small amount of information. He did believe, however, that I was a difficult person to stop when I started out to do something. We also found the old Stults Homestead near the cemetery.
© 1996, 1997 Jo Dunne