Part of the USGenWeb and MOGenWeb projects

       Contact the County Coordinator here                Report Broken Links here

Text Box:

Audrain County, Missouri





from The Intelligencer

©2003-2008 Betty Brooks

Unwritten History - Part 2

Feb. 14, 1907 pg 2 col 3


             The following is the beginning of a series of articles which The Intelligencer hopes to continue from time to time, concerning the history of our town and its vicinity.  The notes are taken from the lips of one of our oldest citizens, who was himself an actor in these primal scenes, when our town site was yet virgin sod.  The wolf howled then in Flat Rock (as now sometimes) and the sheep had to be penned every night.  A bear was killed in 1835 by William LeVaugh about one-fourth of a mile south of Hardin College.


            Some of our series will be from the experience of other old settlers of our city.


            In 1835, the site of the town of Mexico was government land, and the ground was timber and "arm prairie" - so called.  The branch through the present town was rather heavily timbered from the creek up to "Flat Rock".  The people used to make rails about and above Allison Springs, where the boys used to hunt rabbits.  Jno. A. Pearson had the first farm of the region which occupied most of the present site of Highland Addition.  His nearest neighbor was Wm. LeVaugh, who lived just north on the other side of the present Paris Road at what is best known as the old Wm. Powell place, one mile north of Mexico, where Ally Garrett now lives just east of the Schopp home.  On the west the Wade place was occupied by Joseph Pearson, where Bob Cauthorn now lives, and Thos. Hook then lived on the Ben Cauthorn place.  Ackly Day lived on the Hooton place.  South, the nearest farm was that of George Bomer, the place now known as the Wesly Stuart place.  Francis Armistead lived on the old Armistead place, now owned by Joseph Fecht, just west of town.  Southeast the nearest settled place was that of Phoebe Kilgore on which Frank Canterbury subsequently lived.  Lewis Day lived further on south about five miles from town.  East of town lived Richmond Pearson, on the present Lawder place.  Just about that time William West moved here and lived on the Cunningham place, just northeast of and not far from the bridge.  Thus was the site of Mexico surrounded.

            Previous to the establishment of the town, Jerry West came to the Maxwell place and Squire Doan moved to the Elder William Mason place.  About 1837 the Gass place - now known as the Hedges Dairy farm - was settled by Judge Fenton, who later moved to town.  About that time Jno. C. Martin was on the farm now owned by J. T. Johnson, just north of the Ben Cauthorn bridge.  He built about 300 yards northeast of that bridge the first mill in the county for grinding.  It was a 'horse mill', four horses pulling on beams or "sweeps", and it did for all this country the milling work; and often one had to go before breakfast and wait all day for his grist.  Still, before the town was founded the region boasted a race track, which was located just west of the Elder Mason farm house up in the arm of the prairie on that ridge northwest of the house of the Hardin place.  It is amusing to recall that such old squatters as the Willinghams ("Winnegums") and Kilgores and others would go out there and with a garden hoe, skelp the prairie sod away six feet wide and six hundred yards long - each fellow making his own track - the two being about thirty feet apart.  Here on Saturday afternoons with plenty of cheap whiskey along they resorted for pastime - usually in the late summer and fall.  Any kind of a 'nag', the steed was called that was run, for stakes extending from a quart of whiskey up to a yoke of oxen.  A good deal of swearing and bluffing prevailed but not much fighting.  What there was was purely of the fist and scull variety.  The races had the appearance of being strictly fair and honest - the "pulling" jockey then not having been developed.  One time the father of a present prominent racer won everything that Joel Haynes had - horses, oxen, calves, and some wagons.

            There was no Paris road then.  Paris was settled and so was Fulton.  The former got mail from the Mississippi river at Hannibal and the latter by direct stage line from St. Louis.  the local region between these towns got its mail by going to Fulton and paying a quarter for each letter.  


From THE INTELLIGENCER (weekly) Feb. 21, 1907 pg 2 col 1


             In the days of the early settlement of our country, the old citizen went to say, the houses were of logs, of course.  These were hauled up from the woods, and the neighbors for miles around would come in and help "raise" the building.  In some cases the logs were scored and hewed into proper shape on the ground.  In the best houses they were squared so as to lay up with almost no crack between; but oftentimes, in the hurry of need, the round logs were laid up in a pen and the walls were scored and hewed down afterwards.  The cracks were stopped with blocks of wood laid up diagonally.  Over these was a "pointing" of lime or mud.  The chimneys were of logs and sticks, the lower part being lined with stone or brick.

            The standard covering for the houses hereabout then was of clapboards about four feet long and six inches wide rived from white pine or burr oak blocks.  They reached from log to log (of the roof frame) which ran from gable to gable.  There were no rafters.  The gables were of built up logs-each piece shorter than the one below.  The boards were not nailed on.  In fact there were no nails in the region.  They were held on by logs lying immediately above the supporting logs beneath.  The first house hereabout-the old Pearson place-had not a nail in the original construction, nor was there an iron hinge.

            The door frames were pegged with wood to the end of the logs where the door was sawed out.  The door shutter consisted first of a frame pegged together at the corners and just filling inside of the frame that was pegged to the logs.  Across the middle this latter frame was a bar.  Thinly rived long boards the length of the shutter were slid around this mid-bar and were held in place by their elasticity or spring.

            The latch was wooden, of course, and fastened inside, dropping by gravity into a "catch", much like a gate latch of today.  Through a hole above a leather string led by which the latch could be lifted from the outside.  When the pioneer wished to lock his house for the night he pulled the string in through the hole and with his rifle inside defied the outer world.  "The latch string is always out" thus meant the greatest constant hospitality or willingness to admit a guest informally.

            The window was often omitted.  If light was needed the door was opened.  Such windows as did prevail were very small-often so that a man could not crawl into the house through them.  For the same good reasons they were rarely nearer the ground than six feet.  The pioneer at home was in his castle.

            There were artists in their line of work.  There were hewers who could dress a log as smooth as if it were planed, leaving not a scratch on it-yet the tool was a clumsy "broad ax".  The "scorer" was also a workman.  He preceded the hewer, and chipped or scored the log so that splinters would not lead the ax into the "grain" too deeply.  Some old hewers would not work unless they had certain known men to score for them.  A hewer rarely scored for himself.

            The men who made the "saddles" and "notches" at the corners must be either a good workman at the "raisings" or else the victim of the most scathing jokes.  When at their best, their joints are all most watertight.  The great logs are slid into place on skids; and there were those who were experts at this work.  Forks were used to thrust them up and the man above had what he called a "bulls-eye"-made of a forked hickory pole with the tines twisted into a loop that was slipped over the end of the log when it came in reach.  Often a jug of whiskey, brought from Fulton for these special occasions, was a factor of the elevation.

            It was considered quite a slight to fail to invite any one to these "raisings".  The limit of the social obligation extended for a distance of at least six miles.  Any omission within this limit was often an insult that prevailed down through generations.  When we consider the dinners they had on these occasions, we can readily see the basis of the ill-feeling.  Venison and wild turkey, cornbread and pumpkin pies, boiled ham from the wild fat hogs of the woods, with hominy and beans and all the vegetables in season freighted the festive board.  It makes me now think of Bronwing's lines, said the scribe, "God gives the scrip and canister; sin heaps the loaded board."

            The floors of these homes were often of dirt.  Those having floors of puncheon were considered rather aristocratic.  Good feeling between all grades, however, was the rule.  If the pioneer had no roof at all under which to spread his table, or if he yet had no furniture or provisions on the ground, the neighbors supplied these, and thus sustained him as they welcomed him into their midst.

            Sickness did not prevail then to any great extent.  It could not be afforded since the nearest doctor was fifteen miles away, near Stevens (Stephens) store, Callaway county.  This was Dr. Rothwell, the grandfather of the present living physician in our city by that name.      



from THE INTELLIGENCER (weekly) Feb. 28, 1907 pg 2 col 3


             "It is astonishing now to recall the things that we did without in those old days," the old citizen began to say at the scribe's call. "There were no two-horse wagons.  Mr. John Beatty, father of our former postmaster, brought the first two-horse wagon into the county in 1842.  A buggy was an unknown luxury, of course, and a cookstove was unknown.  Dutch ovens and skillets were used, whole large pieces of meat and game, such as turkeys, were roasted before the fire held by a string attached to the jam of the fireplace."  And so on.

            Lamps, except that sort formed by a saucer of grease and a rag, were not used, till sometime during the war.  While candles of tallow and beeswax were moulded, the little literature of the region was read often by the firelight.  The corn cob and the shavings from the "Shaving horse" and the riving block were factors of the literary culture of the time.

            They did not know then what a match was.  Fire was originated from flint and punk, and was afterwards carefully preserved.  Often it was borrowed from a neighbor more than a mile away.  Usually a green stick was split and thrust astride of a burning "chunk". and a horse was mounted and a gallop sustained until the brand was safe and glowing on the home hearth.

            Soda as we know it now was not to be obtained.  Either they did without it or substituted potash from the lye of hickory ashes.  This would make the bread rise.  When biscuits were made they were usually beaten biscuits of fine quality and "did not need to be cracked with a hammer like a nut, either," he added with a twinkle.  They called soda salaratus then.

            Of course, they grew their own flax, which they "broke" to release the fiber, and "scutched" or beat the bark loose from the stems; then they "hackled" it, or combed it with a long toothed implement, till the "tow" was removed, and the long pure flax or lint was left.  This was spun on a little wheel that ran constantly, while the fine strong threads were formed.  These were "doubled and twisted" into the final thread; ready to be made into linen by the loom.  These looms were in occasional families only and came down through the generations-being heir-looms indeed.

            Every flock of sheep had some black ones in it, if possible, so that there need be no coloring used to form dark or "gray mixt" garments.  Dye stuffs were scarce and simple-the chief one being the old "butternut" effected by the tea from the bark of the walnut.

            Jeans of this color was then known locally as "Skull Lick jeans".  Blue jeans was made from indigo and madder, which were attainable at Fulton.  "Linsey" with a stripe of red madder was aristocratic.  At times cotton was colored with "keel", or the soft red stone found on our creeks.  This color was "set" by boiling the fabric in sweet milk.  "Speaking of colors," said the narrator, "it may interest you to know that tomatoes were grown for their beauty only then and were set about on the shelves and crude mantles for effect, as we use sea shells and flowers now.  Their consumption as a vegetable was not thought of."

            The tract of land cultivated for each family was exceedingly small.  Twenty acres were sufficient for the largest family.  There was no market for corn; only a few cows and horses needed to be wintered; summer range was unlimited and the hog--the main support outside of venison--ran wild in the woods and lived on nuts, acorns, plumbs and roots.

            One of the latter was called "hog potatoes" - a tuberous plant, now extinct here.  It was close kin to artichokes, of the sunflower family.

            These hogs became as wild as game.  If unmarked they belonged to any one, and were often shot like deer.  Usually, however, beds or sleeping places were discovered and while they were away a little grain was thrown thereabout.  Later rails were hauled to this place, and later still were built into a pen with many gaps or openings.  These gaps were closed one after the other, on subsequent visits as the weeks passed till there was finally left one opening.  Grain was constantly left in the pen, and when the hogs filled it some one hidden stole up and closed the "slip gap", and the winter's pork was secured.

            The farm implements were very crude then.  The cutting part or "shear" of the plow was of steel, but the moldboard was of wood taken from a tree with a twisting grain, so that proper tilt might be given to the soil.  The cultivating plow was a single steel shovel-one horsed, of course.  Corn was sometimes covered by dragging a rock in the furrow.

            There were no carding mills in the region and wool from the sheep was hand-carded into rolls scarcely more than a half a foot long.  These were spun on the old-fashioned spinning wheel, whose "woo-o-o-h" could be heard at every home during a warm portion of the year.  Every garment was made by hand, since the sewing machine did not reach this region till after the war.

            Reverting to salaratus the old citizen recalled laughingly the following incident:

            One of the settlers of Bean Creek came to the little village after it was established, rather frequently, and many times his wife had asked him to bring her some salaratus.  But he continued to neglect it.  Finally she told him that if he did not bring it that day he need not come back.  He stood around town all day.  He was close in money matters and not a millionaire.  Finally he took a merchant friend into his confidence.  "She sez I needent come 'thout it and she means things when she sez um.  What um I ter do?  How much is the stuff an ounce?"

            "Ounce!" exclaimed the merchant.  "Why, man, its only ten cents a pound."

            "Good Lord," said the other, "gimme a dollar's wuth."

            And he went home happy.


from THE INTELLIGENCER (weekly) Mar. 14, 1907 pg 3 col 4


             "Speaking of money," began the old citizen, "the article was scarce in that early day, and other commodities had to be used as a medium of exchange.  A wolf scalp was worth a dollar, because there was a state bounty upon the death of a wolf, and taxes were largely paid in these.  Venison hams and deer skins also had a set purchasing value.  Skins of the fur bearers were likewise abundant and valuable.  These things were sent to Hannibal to barter for necessities."

            The first sheriff of the county, about 1837, when he went to Jefferson City to deliver the revenue, met an old friend on the way, who, needing money then, wanted to borrow the actual coin part of the pile.  It was lent to him and the official went and delivered his scalps only.  By the time of the next settlement the loan was repaid and the sheriff made his subsequent settlement complete.  No note or other obligation than the mere word was given.

            The settlement for miles about the site of Mexico was known elsewhere as "Salt River" and the people were called "Salt River Tigers".  It must be admitted that they were generally feline in temper and fighting capacity.  The original Salt River meets the Mississippi just north of Louisiana, Mo., and doubtless got its name from the many salt licks near or on it in that vicinity.  There are four forks of the main stream.  The one leading toward us was named the South Fork.  Just northeast of town between the two bridges it also forks.  The branch north of the city was named Davis Fork of Salt River, after a man named Baylor Davis, who lived on it.  The fork east and south of town was early known as "Beaverdam Fork of Salt River", shortened into "Beaverdam", because beavers in that day built many dams on it.  Dams of these were found below the fork near Powell's Ford.

            These little streams abounded in fish then, some of the kinds of which have entirely disappeared.  In winter, pickerel eighteen inches long could be killed under the ice.  Now this fish is extinct here.  Even the smaller streams of our prairies which are now filled with the loose soil of cultivation, had deep pools in them that furnished excellent fishing.  "I have fished successfully in our town branch, especially at floods, and fair cats have been taken as high up as Monroe Street.  Of course they were not large but averaged well with those we now take in the larger streams," said the narrator.  Fish Branch was notorious for its bass at that time, and hence its name. 

            The first school of the Salt River region was taught in 1837 at what is now the home of Mr. Albert Gass, about two miles west of town near the Wabash bridge.  The teacher was Miss Jane Fenton, from Boone County.  Of the pupils who attended that school then only two are known to be alive, Rufus Pearson of Mexico and William Keeton of near Thompson Station.  The first schoolhouse built for the purpose was on the west side of the road north of the Kirtley or Ben Cauthorn place (now owned by Mr. E. C. S. Miller) just on the top of the hill southwest of the bridge.  Here the itinerant teacher wore the newness off of him and passed on.  The first was a man named McGrew.  Later this site was abandoned and the school was held in the town, within what was the first court house, about the middle of the block on the south side of the square.  Later this was known as the Charlie Winant building, where this man, in an early day, but later, dispensed cider without mustard and gingerbread without pepper.

            The first church of the region was on the old well-known site of the Hopewell church of the Baptists, on the spot opposite the western edge of the Callaway farm, on the Columbia road where Mr. Jung now lives.  It was of logs, nicely hewn, but was followed by a frame building which is within the memory of our citizens.  For some time after the war the latter was the only building the Baptists had in this region.

            The first preacher of this congregation was Wm. Jesse, the father of Mr. Royal Jesse and the late Wm. Jesse.  The next was Anderson Woods of Monroe County.  This was before the division of the Baptist Church on the missionary question.  On this first log bulding the shaved shingle and shingle nail arrived, and this old building was roofed with these.  Of course it had two front doors, one for the entrance of the women and one for the men.  The sexes sat on differnt sides in those days, and as late as our war of rebellion this system prevailed.  The young man who should go in and sit down by his girl then would have been considered to have either unlimited "cheek" or a lack of knowledge of good form.  By the way, even the larger homes, where there were chambers upstairs, had a solid wall of logs between the young men and those of the young ladies.  Our pioneers were determined to aid virtue in every substantial manner, or at least throw obstructions in the way of any possibilities in the other direction.

            The flooring of this church was of white oak planks sawed with a whipsaw there being yet no saw mill in the region--and the walnut planks for the pulpit, etc. were hauled from a mill on Cedar Creek in Boone County.

            Many persons walked to church in that day.  The fine clothes of Sunday were not so abundant then as now, and sunbonnets were much in evidence.  Fine shoes were hard to obtain, and the ladies wore on week days those made by the local cobbler.  Therefore, it was not unusual to see young ladies, just before they reached the church, take off the every day shoes which had been used on the rough road, and put on the Sunday ones, before entering the congregation.  Of course ox-wagons were used then as a means of transportation, but because "Gee" and "Haw" had to be shouted to "Buck" and "Ball", accompanied at times with some very energetic and rather unsabbatical adjectives, these teams also were usually tied far out on the out skirts of the grove--especially if the family was late




Article 2, published in The Intelligencer, Feb 21, 1907—with mention of the name Dr. Rothwell and description of early settlement homes

Article  3, published in The Intelligencer, Feb 28, 1907—with mention of the names – BEATTY and early settlement family life

Article 4, published in The Intelligencer, March 14, 1907 – with mention of the names CALLAWAY, CAUTHORN, DAVIS, FENTON, GASS, JESSE, JUNG, KEETON, McGREW, MILLER, PEARSON, WINANT

Article 5, published in The Intelligencer, March 28, 1907—with mention of the names BREWER, DAVIS, EDWARDS, GASS, HEDGES, JENNINGS, JOHNSON, KILGORES, MARTIN, PLOAT, SCHOOLING, SELLERS, SMITH,  STUART, WILLIAMS  and description of the Mexico cemetery

Article 6, published in The Intelligencer, April 4, 1907—with mention of the names CAUTHORN, COATSWORTH, EDWARDS, HOOK, MANSFIELD, MORRIS, PEARSON, PERRY, SCHOOLING, SMITH


Article 8, published in The Intelligencer, April 25, 1907—with mention of the names BROWN, DOAN, HARRISON, HATTON, HAYES, JACKSON, JONES, MCDONALD, MORRIS, WILLIAMS

Article 9, published in The Intelligencer, May 2, 1907—with mention of the names BISHOP, CREASEY, DAMERON

Article 10, published in The Intelligencer, May 16, 1907—with mention of the names FENTON, FRY, HARPER, JAMES, KEETON, KILGORE, WALLACE

Article 11, published in The Intelligencer, May 30, 1907 (final article in this series) - with mention of the names BEATTY, EDWARDS, HARRIS, HARRION, HOLMES, LOCKE, PEARSON

Article 12, published in The Mexico MO Message, Aug 28, 1913—Interview with RUFUS S. PEARSON with mention of the names BEATTY, CAUTHORN, CLARK, HARRISON, HUNTER, REED, RINGO, WORRELL

Article 13, published in The Mexico Ledger, date unknown—written by S.M. Locke, Vice-President of Southern Bank, about banking in Audrain County