Life of Will Hawkins: How He Lived It and Enjoyed It
Commerce: I was born Sept. 26, 1889, on the family farm, homesteaded by my grandfather, Asa Hawkins in the 1830's, between Benton and Commerce. Court records, in the Recorder's office in Benton, touch the high-lights of his struggle to hold and pay for it, finally getting out of debt for it after the Civil War.
My parents were Thomas Hawkins and Clara Robi(n)son Hawkins. They were religious people, belonged to a General Baptist church and attended service at Cross Plains.
We are direct descendants of Capt. John Hawkins, who, along with Sir Francis Drake and many tough sea captains, defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and gave Queen Elizabeth 1 the opportunity to start England on the way to become Mistress of the Seas and a leading world power for 350 years. Our family continued in sea-faring through the years, finally settling in America in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and finally Missouri. I have relatives all over the country.
My grandfather and father spent their entire lives here, clearing this land and farming it. I, too, have spent all my 82 years here, scratching out a living as best I could. I farmed, taught school for 18 years, drove my own school bus four years for the Commerce School district. Then back to farming in the thirties, going deeper in to debt every year. I sold wheat for 30 cents a bushel and corn for 14. During Roosevelt's first term, I sold gravel off my farm thru Charley Schoen of New Hamburg, then, realizing I'd do better for myself, I bought a dump truck, bid on the roadwork coming up in the couny and my first low-bid job was for Illmo, 2000 cu.yds. During the next 22 years, I was in the gravel business, along with my farming. I didn't get rich, but paid all my debts and laid up some for the future. My father and I added a few acres to the original homestead and I have been able to increase our holdings over the years. Though I have never been able to capture a ship or take a city, like my ancestor Capt. Hawkins did, I've added a bit here and there and am content.
I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and four lovely children, who have never given any trouble and have made me proud of them, Helen, Frances, Jane and William.
The Lord gave me a strong and vigorous body, with a zest and gusto for life. One reason I taught school so long was that I could whip any boy in my classes, and there were some, almost men, 19 and 20 years old, over six feet tall, weighing over 200 lbs. -- but I was able to control, teach and maintain discipline. This same strong body has enabled me to farm, clear land, load and haul gravel, do a little orcharding, raise our family, and add a little on to the homestead my grandfather started here so many years ago.
Now, on the eve of my 82nd birthday, I am going to pass on one of these days. When I do, Bisplinghoff there in Benton will have charge of the arrangements, funeral by Ruth Gage and burial in Oakdale Cemetery. But, before I go, my Friends, come out and see me. You will be glad you did. --- Will Hawkins
All the information I have about our family was handed down to me by my father, who got it from his father, and so on, back to our earliest well known ancestor, Admiral John Hawkins, who was born in south England in 1543, went to sea, acquired his own ship at the age of 25, entered the slave and rum trade between Africa and the West Indies. He prospered, buying cargoes of rum in the islands of the W. Indies, sailing to Africa, trading the rum to African chiefs for prisoners, who were stowed in the hold of the ship, transported to the Indies and sold as slaves to the plantation owners there. The Spanish, who laid claim to all the islands of the Indies, Florida and Mexico, resented Hawkins and other English (including Sir Francis Drake) cutting into their trade between Africa and the New World and made such trading more and more difficult by their constant harrassment of English ships on the high seas. Finally, with the English led by Hawkins, Drake, and other ambitious sailors, capturing so many Spanish ships from the New World, loaded with gold, rum and other valuable cargoes, King Phillip decided to invade England, capture and take over the whole island, make it a Spanish possession and stop, once and for all, this constant robbery of his treasure ships. As history tells us, in 1588, King Phillip sent his "Invincible Armada" to take over the English islands. Between the raging storms, Admiral Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake and all the English ships that could be brought into service, the Armada was driven completely around the British Isles, north of Scotland, south past Ireland and a few, very few, returned to the safety of Spanish ports. This sea action, lasting for weeks, eliminated the Spanish threat to England, who, under the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth, went on to become "Mistress of the Seas." Adm. John Hawkins, Drake and hundreds of other English sailors continued their slave and rum trading, their descendants shifting later to cotton and slaves as the English colonies grew and prospered. As the years passed, public horror at the cruel in-human treatment of the African slaves forced laws to be passed in England against slave-trading, so our fore-fathers turned to other pursuits.
I never thought it worth while to spend money to have our "family tree" traced back to Adm. John Hawkins and beyond, tho I did buy a "Hawkins coat-of-arms" that was granted to him by Queen Elizabeth for his action in defeating the Armada.
Our family history tells us that after the slave trading played out, our ancestors continued trading between the Colonies and Europe, tho less and less of each generation kept to the sea and more and more settled down in the colonies and later in the new United States.
The Hawkins settled in Maryland and Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, which brings me to my grandfather Thomas E. Hawkins, who was born in 1799 in Tennessee, and the age of about 23 moved into Missouri, with his young wife and settled on some 60 acres of land, west of Commerce.
After my grandfather decided on a spot to settle near Commerce, he drove his ox-team, pulling the covered wagon, close to a likely looking place for a house and made camp. With his ax and the help of his oxen, he soon had logs enough around his camp to construct his `house,' two 14 feet square rooms, with an 8-foot wide `breezeway' between, with mud-daubed fireplace and chimney in the east room, the kitchen dining and living room. The west
room was the `parlor' and bedroom in the summertime; too cold in winter as there was only the one fireplace at first. Not a nail was used in the structure until he came to putting the roof on. Grandfather cut, shaped, trimmed and notched every log in the entire house, even splitting logs and adzing them into planks for the doors, which he hung by notching into the foundation log and the one above the door. There were only two doors, one to each room and both opened into the breezeway, so they could, in a sense, be `outside' the house without being out in the weather.
I might add that Grandfather got his building training young, helping at many a house and barn raising back in Tennessee. Building a house was a big social affair. Everybody came, all worked hard, erected many a house and barn in one day (since most of them were small one-room affairs) and in the late afternoon the most bounteous and generous meal was set before all the neighbors to `repay' them for the help in putting up the structures. During the day as the work had progressed, beer, wine and `hard' liquor was offered the workers to `keep their spirits up.'
But to back up a little, for I'm getting ahead of my story. Grandfather, while cutting all the logs for the house, also cut lots of small poles, 4 inches through and 20 feet long, for fencing and to build the first barn and lean-to shed for the oxen, his one cow and for the few chickens and the rooster they brought along. In his cutting logs, he kept a lookout for pine and cedar trees, cutting them for his roofing boards. `Shakes,' they were called. After his walls were as high as he and his wife could build them, after all the pine and cedar had been worked into `shakes' for the roof, Grandfather went into Commerce (which had been settled by James Brady, James Curran, Charles Findlay and others in 1798, some 25 years before Grandfather took up his land west of town), to buy nails and to announce that he and his wife would hold a house-raising on the next Saturday. He advised his friends that since they were newly arrived, they had no beer or wine, and `mighty little hard likker,' but they had a lot of work to do and a lot of good food to give them. Several of his friends told him, `You provide the timber, the work and the food, and we'll bring the help, the tools and the likker!'
When night fell on that following Saturday, the Hawkins had a two-room house with breezeway and chimney that `drawed real good,' all their furniture and belongings moved into the house in their proper place, a good solid barn, with a loft for hay, a good lean-to shed, with a good stout fence, and an easy, free-swinging gate, the oxen, the cow, the hens and rooster all housed snug and tight.
After the house and barn raising had been completed by the generous and helpful neighbors from Commerce and even as far away as Benton, Grandfather decided the next most important step was to dig a well. The constant chore of hauling water from a spring, poured in barrels sitting in the wagon drawn by his two oxen, was a time-consuming job he wished to dispense [with]. He chose a spot north of the cabin, midway between the house and barn, and started digging. As the depth increased and he could no longer throw the dirt from the hole, he rigged a windlass and bucket over the excavation, would dig and fill the bucket and his wife, my Grandmother [but that's not correct, as Will and I descend from the second wife!] cranked the windlass, lifting the bucket to the top, holding the crank with her hip as she grasped the bucket, pulled it away from the hole, dragged it away, emptied it and returned it to Grandfather, down in the opening.
Several weeks passed before the well was completed. For many other things had to be done each day before they could return to their digging. Water had to be hauled as needed. A corn crop had to be planted in the cleared area where Grandfather cut all the timber for the cabin, barn and fences. Meals had to be prepared, time had to be taken for hunting, as they had no hogs or cattle to butcher, and since they didn't, it was no task to step into the woods and shoot the day or week's needs quickly for the country abounded in game. Birds, ducks, geese, along the swamps, deer, 'possum, even bear, back in the hills. Finally the corn crop was planted, chopped out and cleaned, pumpkins planted all around the stumps, the garden planted and hoed clean of weeds and best of all, the well was finished, more than 25 feet deep with clean pure water standing in the bottom. As the hot summer advanced and the crops were growing satisfactorily, Grandfather decided to discontinue the clearing of land and make arrangements to get the property he had chosen recorded in the books at the county seat in Benton.
He first talked with his near neighbors, the Commerce Board of Trustees, Jacob Spears, J.S. Smith, John Brow and Joe [illegible].. They advised him to go to Benton, talk with County Judge Abraham Hunter, John Barnes, County Surveyor, Strong N. Hutson, Assessor, and Felix G. Allen, State Representative from Scott County. Some of these men, newly elected in 1832, would be able to tell him the necessary steps to take to get his land `proved up' and be recorded `proper and fit' in his own name. All the officials proved to be most helpful and as a result, Grandfather and John Barnes, the County Surveyor, made the trip to Jackson, Cape county seat, in Barnes' buggy. Grandfather had only the oxen and wagon, a very slow means of transportation. There at Jackson they found the Federal Land Commissioner, gave him the facts and description of the land. He wrote to the Federal Commissioner in St. Louis who forwarded the description to Washington, D.C. [Pat's note: see land patents noted in my family group sources]
Years later, for it took time in those days, Grandfather and Grandmother were called to Benton to witness the recording and `make their marks,' for neither could read nor write, and they saw the description "W, side SE 1/4, NE 1/4 and NE 1/4 NE 1/4 Sec. 34, Rg. 29, Twp. 14" all duly inserted in Township Record Book in the Recorder's and Circuit Clerk's office. Those two offices were combined until 1856. Grandfather and Grandmother both made the trip to Benton to witness the recording and he said the Courthouse was a double log cabin structure, with the
breezeway enclosed and used for the Recorder-Circuit Clerk's office. He said the first brick courthouse was not built until 1844. They had dinner at the
Benton Inn, a log structure located where the post office is now.
[Will now writes in his grandfather's voice.]
The three years after we got our house and barn built were the happiest, yet the
saddest for me, for it was then that my wife died ... but I get ahead of my story. I continued every day I could work at it, clearing more and more land, hauling the biggest and best logs to the sawmill. Some of the timber I sold for cash, for money was mighty hard to come by in those days. Other logs I traded for sawed boards and was able to floor both rooms of the cabin, and the breezeway. I even added a front porch with a roof over it, facing the road which extended from Commerce to Benton.
That first fall, after the crops and garden stuff were cribbed, housed, hung-up and `holed' like the potatoes and turnips, I set aside some lumber and shakes and built us a `necessary' in the near corner of the garden, with a leather hinged door and halfmoons cut in the walls! Our first child, a daughter Harriet, was born the second year and we thought our life was complete, tho my wife did not regain her strength as fast as she wanted to! [Note that Asa had two sons before Harriet was born, so this comment doesn't fit the facts. Why does this narrative ignore those two boys completely?]
Life in those days was mighty hard on women folks, what with the cooking and washing and mending, spinning and weaving, canning and preserving, gardening and looking after the baby, your grandmother's health continued to fail. When Harriett was almost two years old, her mother died, quietly in her sleep. It was a terrible blow. It was so lonely. Here we were, hundreds of miles from our nearest relatives, and tho we had many fine friends, near about and in town, it wasn't the same. Kind neighbors built her a box out of some of the wide pine boards I'd had sawed at the mill, padded and lined it, and we buried her in her newest dress. The preacher said a pretty service over her and we laid her to rest in what is now the family cemetery, here on the farm, the first to be buried there.
If I thought life had been hard, with your grandmother here to help, those first years, the next weeks were pure horror and terror. Everywhere I looked was something to remind me of her, her clothes, the little mirror we'd brought from Tennessee and she'd set up over a shelf in the `parlor' so she could see to put up her hair. The hoe leaning in the breezeway where she'd left it that last day she lived. The kraut she'd made, the watermelon preserves, the onions she'd hung overhead in the breezeway ... everyway I turned was something of her. The old grindstone we had brought from `home,' and how she had turned it for me as I sharpened the ax, before going into the woods for a day's clearing.
But the worst was trying to do for myself and our daughter Harriett. The cooking, the dressing, the washing and bathing. Trying to take her with me to the woods and fields, it was just too much. But I think the Lord will show the way if we just keep trying!
The third week after your grandmother died a traveling peddler drove up in front of the house late one afternoon, almost supper time and asked if he could `stay the night.' I made him welcome, he unhitched his horse, put him in the barn, watered, fed him, and tied him so he wouldn't bother the oxen. Long before I had our plain supper ready to sit down to, I had told him about my misfortune of your grandmother's death and the bleak future Harriett and I faced.
"Well, now, Asa," (for that's what your grandmother always called me) "I've just come from New Madrid through Winchester" (now Sikeston) "and Benton, and maybe this is the Lord's doings. W.H. Ellis of New Madrid has a daughter, Rhoda, by name, and her husband has just died, some 4 or 5 days ago. They'd buried him the day before I left New Madrid, on my way here. The story I heard was that they'd been married only a few months when he sickened and died. That young woman will be needing a husband and the Lord knows you need a wife! Why don't you go down there and see her?"
Well, we talked far into the night. The peddler left early the next morning for Commerce and I to visit our nearest neighbor. They knew my troubles and I told them my plans. If they would keep Harriett and look after my place and livestock, I would go to New Madrid and propose to Mr. Ellis's daughter. My kind, big-hearted neighbor quickly agreed with my plans, came over to our place that afternoon, looked around, saw what was to be done and how to do it, took little Harriett home with them. After my evening chores, with the covered wagon loaded with what I'd need for the trip to New Madrid, I went early to bed, full of hope, but fearful.
I was up early the next morning, before daylight, fed and watered the oxen, hogs and chickens, looked around at everything, then yoked the oxen to the covered wagon and started my trip to New Madrid to see the daughter of W.B. [sic: different middle initial from 1st mention] Ellis, whose husband had died a few days before.
I pulled up in front of the log courthouse in Benton shortly before 8 o'clock, unyoked the oxen, tied them to the back of the wagon, gave them a little hay, watered them with a bucket I carried in the wagon, getting the water from the well at the Inn across the street (where the post office now stands). While getting the water, I told Mrs. Rodgers, whose husband ran the Inn, that I'd like to have breakfast, if it wasn't too much trouble. "No trouble, but it's late for breakfast and in will cost you 25 cents, in hard money." I told her I had the money and to go on, fix it; I'd be back and eat after I watered the oxen. I went into the `public room' of the Inn to eat the venison, eggs, biscuits and coffee Mrs. Rodgers had prepared for me. Seated at the long table, also having breakfast, were Sheriff Strong N. Hutson and County Clerk George C. Harbison. The Sheriff said he'd gotten back from Newman Beckwith's place, after seeing him about a complaint that he had again been selling whiskey to the Indians. We talked too long, and it was after 9 o'clock before I got the oxen reyoked and was on my way towards Morley.
It was nearly 12 o'clock when I drove up in front of Lawyer Watkins' place northwest of Morley, hollered "Hello" and was invited by `Miss Eliza,' the lawyer's wife, to have dinner with them. Mr. Watkins was in Jackson attending court, so Miss Eliza and their two small children, Nathaniel Jr. and Washington, ate with me. I felt sort of out of place in my rough work clothes and high leather boots, eating in their dining room with a table cloth and silver, waited on by their house slaves, but they asked me so many questions about me, my daughter Harriett and where I was going, about Mr. Ellis' daughter that I had hoped to marry that I felt at home. Mrs. Watkins told me that she was from New Madrid, being a Watson before she married her lawyer husband.
All too soon, I reyoked my team and started south, for I wanted to get across the slough at Kluge's Hill (where the highway branches off present U.S. 61 towards Vanduser) before dark. I arrived while it was still daylight, found the water low, so I didn't have to use the raft. I was able to drive the team across without unhitching and rafting them and the wagon across separately. I spent the night at the Hunter place, some four miles north of Winchester, which is now a part of Sikeston, got an early start next morning and made it to the Moore farm north of New Madrid that night.
Having found out where W.B. Ellis lived, I drove straight to his place, found him at home, told him my story, asked his permission to see his widowed daughter Rhoda, had a drink of my hard likker on it, received his blessing, and then drove out to Rhoda's place. As I approached the place, it looked pretty run down, but then her husband had been sick and hadn't been able to do for her and the place as he might if
he'd been well and strong. I "helloed" the house, and as a fine, tall, well-filled-out young woman came to the door, I got down from the wagon, walked
over to her, introduced myself, told her I'd talked with her father, had his permission to talk to her about marrying up with me.
She said that was thoughtful of me but she was "free, white and 21" and could make up her own mind. She invited me into her one-room cabin. It was clean, though very sparsely furnished. A rope-bed stead, two benches, a small table, some shelves beside the fireplace, a few plates, cups, pitchers, a metal tub, an iron pot and a skillet.
I reckon I lacked the finer sensibilities of life, so, without beating around the bush, I told her about myself, my former wife, my daughter Harriett, my two-room house on the farm near Commerce and my need for her. I told her I was not especially handsome, nor well-to-do, but I was young, strong, would have more of the world's goods as time went on, and that I would be kind and gentle with her, and maybe, as time passed, we could learn to admire, respect and love each other.
She sat on the bench in front of the fireplace, silent, looking down at her hands, glancing from time to time up at me, standing before her, twisting my hat in my hands. Finally, looking around the cabin, then at me, she said, "I'll go with you, for better or worse, and may the Lord have mercy on both of us."
Within an hour we had her few belongings loaded on the wagon, including her chickens and the one pig she owned. She insisted on going by her family's place, getting the preacher to say the marriage vows before we set out on the long trip back to Commerce. The early fall weather was fine and two and a half days later, tired, happy and much better acquainted, your new grandmother, Rhoda, and I arrived at our home near Commerce.
The years rolled by swiftly, happily for us. Your grandmother Rhoda was a very wonderful woman. She took my daughter Harriet to her heart as if she were her own child, which made me happy and proud. Grandma Rhoda was so full of energy and ambition. She encouraged and helped me to enlarge the house, adding lean-to rooms on the west side of the family room and onto the parlor, helped me mix the mortar and lay the bricks to replace the fire place in the kitchen and family room, even insisting that we build a fireplace in the parlor, saying she would not go thru another winter sleeping in the kitchen, crowded like hogs in a barn.
I don't know where she got all her energy and drive, but she lead and pushed me into many chores and projects about the homestead. Not only did we enlarge the house, but, with her help, we added to the barn, built a larger corn-crib, a separate poultry house, for she raised a mighty fine flock of chickens, but she urged me to buy two more heifer calves to increase our cow herd, as well as trading work with a neighbor to obtain a young
boar-hog to improve our growing herd of hogs.
I thought I knew something about gardening and farming, but she lead the way to increasing our garden, canning and preserving so many things that about all we had to buy at the store in Commerce was salt, pepper and sugar. After our first year together here, she talked me into sowing a small wheat crop, and thereafter, we had wheat to trade at the mill for flour, so that after that second year, we always had bread with our meals, light bread or corn pone and biscuits every Sunday.
During our second year, Rhoda's family from New Madrid visited us. We had plenty of room, and food, so they stayed a week. While there Mr. Ellis, my father-in-law worked with me in the fields and in the woods, clearing, eternally clearing, in order to have more ground for cultivation. While engaged in the endless farm work, he observed my methods, and made many suggestions to speed up and improve my farming, for he was a very
successful farmer at his place new New Madrid. He told me about crop rotation, changing the fields for wheat, corn and hay, not growing these same crops in the same fields, year after year. It wore out the land and the crops yielded less and less each year. He said he got those ideas from articles he had read that were written by Geo. Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both successful farmers in Virginia, who had been good farmers, long before either one of them became President.
He also told me, if I could see my way clear to do it, to try to get a team of mules, or horses, brood-mares, if possible, then I could raise my own. Horses or mules would speed up my field work considerably, and I could keep the oxen for the slow, heavy work of logging and clearing.
Time passed swiftly. I realized where your grandmother, Rhoda, got her ideas about farm management -- from her father, who thought that farming was a lot more than hard work. It was forethought, looking ahead, making your head save your hands, earning and saving a little something extra.
Life there was not all hard work and drudgery. We went to church in Commerce every Sunday the weather permitted. We often took our lunch, sat thru the long services, then ate our lunch and visited with our neighbors and friends, for they were just as starved for news and opinions as we were.
At least once a year, we made an all-day visit to the courthouse at Benton, to pay our taxes, trade our wheat for flour
at the mill, look at the trade goods at Ed Rodgers's store that he operated along with his Benton Inn, then over to
Michael McLaughlin's store, north of the courthouse (where the Scott County Democrat building now stands).
It was always a long, happy day for us, and we returned home tired out and hungry.
Our first child was a girl, and my second daughter. We named her Rhoda, after your grandmother, for I was
mighty proud of her and wanted the name carried on. We had no doctors as such then, but a neighborly "mid-wife"
from Commerce came out to stay with Rhoda during the time, and for a few days after until your grandmother could
be up and about. Two years later our first son, Will, was born, and we thought our happiness was complete.
With our growing family, life during those years was a happy existence. We all got up early, in the spring, summer
and fall, before daylight, usually by 4 o'clock, except Sunday, when we stayed in bed until 5 o'clock or later. There were
the many chores to do about the place, each and every day: the livestock and chickens to be fed, cows to milk and take
to the pasture, meals to prepare, and that was a chore for your grandmother looking back on it now, with our cast-iron
range, in a separate kitchen. But then, all the cooking had to be done at the fireplace.
At the urging of your grandmother, I built a warming oven on each side of the fire place in the kitchen, which made the cooking a much easier chore for her and as a result we had truly hot meals, everything at the same time, meat, vegetables, and bread.
But to continue with our early morning chores: as the children got older and could start to school in Commerce,
it was a mad rush to get them washed, fed and dressed, ready to walk into town with the neighbor children who lived
further out than we did. While they were dressing and bickering as all children do, Grandma Rhoda prepared their
lunches in neat wooden lunch boxes that I had been forced to plane, whittle out and construct for each child as they
reached school age. We never had any trouble getting the children to go to school. Neither Rhoda or I could write,
tho we could both read printing, a little, especially the Bible, for very little else came our way. The only newspaper
printed within a hundred miles of us was at Ste. Genevieve, and we seldom got to see one.
But we urged and insisted on how important learning was for them, so whether they wanted to or not they went
to school. But they truly wanted to go! They got into Commerce every day, and by now it was a growing, booming
place. Way back in 1798 James Brady and Jim Curran had built cabins there, followed soon by Charlie Findlany, Ed
Hogan, the brothers Tom, John and Jim Welborn and other brothers, Steve, Josiah and Bob Quimby and their growing
families. In 1802 Tom Waters set up a store and a trading post, took Bob Hall into partnership and operated a ferry
across the Mississippi.
By the time our two oldest girls, Henrietta and Rhoda were going to school, Commerce was a town of wonders.
Flatboats and canoes were crowded out by steamboats, those fire-breathing, smoking, snorting floating palaces that
carried everything this new and expanding country was producing or needed: horses, cattle, hogs, cotton, corn, wheat,
hardware, harness, wagons, guns, lead, powder, flour, meal, clothes, furniture -- everything! There were floating barges
lined up along the river, to serve as wharves for the many stores and warehouses of the town. Stockyards and pens were
built on the outer edges for the livestock that was bought, sold, shipped in and shipped out. Tho lots of flat-boats
came down the river, tied up at the wharves, bartered their goods, bought and sold, it was the steamboats that created
the most excitement. You could see them for miles, the smoke rising, steam escaping, then hear the whistle, blowing
for a landing, to alert possible passengers, buyers, sellers, traders. Oh -- it was a busy town! Women in hoopskirts,
finely dressed men, with tall top hats, some of beaver, with walking sticks, soldiers, hunters, trappers, gamblers,
deckhands, just plain everyday passengers, going to St. Louis, or the other way, to Cairo, Memphis, Vicksburg, New
Orleans. The children, going to school, had a chance to see it every day, but Rhoda and I only had a chance to visit
town on occasional Saturdays and every Sunday the weather permitted.
With the country opening up every day, more and more people coming down the Ohio from the east, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, with wheat, corn, cotton, livestock being moved up and down the river, to St. Louis, or to New Orleans, it seemed that the whole country was producing more than it needed, and prices on livestock, grain and cotton went down and down and hard times hit the country. The next few years were very hard ones for the Hawkinses on their farm southwest of Commerce.
In the east of the country a money panic had set in. Prices dropped lower and lower. Money was hard to borrow, almost impossible, with interest rates so high that very few people could afford the exorbitant amounts necessary to borrow. Small businesses could not afford the high interest rates, or if they could, could not find anyone willing to take chances on loaning money. The trouble with money had started years before, when private banks, under the existing laws, printed and issued their own money, until, as time passed so much had been printed and put in circulation with no sound backing, nobody but each bank guaranteeing its own issue, and each one, anxious to do more business, loaned more and more on less and less security, until poor risks could not repay, and greater and greater losses were recorded by more and more banks.
These conditions were prevailing during the first years of President Jackson's administration and he got something done about it. He recommended laws to Congress that resulted in their being passed which forbid all banks from printing and issuing money, reserving that right exclusively to the Federal government. Jackson set up the Federal Reserve system, eliminating the shaky private banks which had so combined to ge the country in such a situation. After the elimination of unsafe private banks, only those who could comply with the safe, sound new laws could do business. Every institution was leaning over backwards to do safe business, so money was hard to borrow, as all banks attempted to make certain that every loan would be repaid. Tho Jackson finished his second term in 1837, and the banking system had been revised and safe-guarded by him, it was years before its ill effects were cleared from the entire country.
In 1841 prices were so low and money so hard to borrow that grandfather arranged to sell his farm to his father-in-law, W.H. Ellis of New Madrid, with the right to stay on it and farm it. Grandfather and grandmother Rhoda drove over to Benton, say County Clerk Harbison, who acted as Recorder, Circuit Clerk as well as County Clerk (these offices were combined in Scott County until 1856). Recorder Harbison placed the transaction in Book 6 at page 473 which noted that for $12.50 per acre, or $500, Hawkins sold his farm to father-in-law Ellis. This took place on a cold, gloomy day,
March 6, 1841. That seemed to be the low point in Grandfather's life. Month after month everything seemed to go better. The weather was fine, crops were excellent, the livestock multiplied, your grandmother Rhoda's deft touches with chickens, gardening, canning, preserving, weaving and sewing helped us mightily in building up our savings.
In 1843, your father Thomas E. Hawkins II was born and now we had four children, two boys and two girls. The two older girls were now of great help to your grandmother, which accounts for the many things she accomplished.
While all these things were being done in and around the house, I continued my clearing, burning, grubbing out stumps, hauling logs to the saw mill, building up a supply of lumber stored in the barn for future construction that your grandmother continued to think of and urge me to undertake. We got the entire house ceiled, finished the upstairs loft over both the rooms and the breezeway, and she even insisted I build a stairway to the upstairs, replacing the dangerous ladder we'd used for years.
As times got better, more and more peddlers and traveling salesmen passed on the road in front of our place, going from Commerce, where they got off the steamboats, or coming from Benton and the South, going to Commerce to get on a steamboat to travel, the Lord knows where. From one of those smiling, smooth-talking salesmen your Grandma Rhoda bought a cast-iron cookstove, or "range," as the man called it, with an oven, warming closet and "reservoir" to heat water. It cost her $25.00 in "hard money" she had saved! Then I had to build a lean-to kitchen onto the side of the old kitchen and family room we had used for so many years as a kitchen, living room and bedroom, until the family got so big we had to expand into the "parlor" and loft. But it was nice! I had to cut a door from the old kitchen to the new one, where the window on the north side was, and add a window to our new "living-room" as your Grandma called the room that had been our kitchen. While I was adding the lean-to kitchen, and more windows, we just went the whole way, and replaced all the "oil-paper" windows in all the rooms with real honest-to-goodness glass windows that she got at a "bargain" at the store in Commerce.
Our fourth child, third son, and the last one to bless our family, was born in 1845. We named him "Cortland" for no particular reason except his mother, Rhoda, thought it was "pretty." We now had five children: Harriett, our first daughter, born to my first wife, a fine, beautiful child, tall, thin, delicate like her mother, who rests in the family graveyard, the first to be buried there. Then, after my second marriage to your grandmother, Rhoda, came the daughter Rhoda, Will, our first son, Thomas E. II, your grandfather and named after me, then "Cort" as we all called him. It was a nice sized family and it took a lot of doing to keep them fed, clothed, busy at the many chores on the farm and always in school during the months it was in session. They were all healthy, normal, vigorous children, mostly eager to work and help out, though I think it was mostly due to the example and the pushing supplied by the mother, Rhoda, who had the most to do with their helpfulness.
As the years rolled by and all attended school, they took part in the school activities, the spelling and ciphering matches, the picnics and the box suppers. Those box suppers were events of great importance. The mothers and daughters prepared the box lunches, beautiful, elaborate things, tastefully decorated with ribbons and bows, filled with the most delicious foods the family could prepare. There would be chicken, duck, goose, venison, beef, pork quail, rabbit, all depending on the skill, ability and taste of the particular cook who prepared the individual box. There would be dressings, salads, canned, pickled and preserved foods, vegetables of all kinds with jellies, pies and cakes, tastefully and appealingly arranged in the boxes.
At the schoolhouse on the night chosen, a roaring fire in the cast-iron pot-bellied stove set in the middle of the large one-room structure (we had long since passed by the fireplace, for it was too inefficient to keep the children warm) set the stage, along with many candles, set on shelves high around the room with several on the teacher's desk where the boxes were stacked, awaiting the time when the auctioneer would sell them to the highest bidder. A great to-do had been going with each boy who was "sparking" (we call it going steady nowadays) each particular girl, to find out how she had decorated and tied her box so that he would recognize her box, and bid the highest, to the exclusion of all others, being awarded her box lunch and the sweet privilege of sitting and eating with the girl of his choice. There were many amusing and some embarrassing situations that resulted from some of the younger brothers and sisters passing out the wrong description about their older sister's box to her boyfriend, thereby causing him to bid sky-high on a box that did not belong to his best girl, but sometimes to a very plain young lady, or to an unpopular girl. Then the young folks would have a hilarious time watching as a couple, very much in love, would be separated, and some other boy or young man would spend the high point of the evening with his girlfriend. Other young boys and girls were able to pick up a little cash by telling their older sister's boyfriend exactly how her lunch box was decorated, so he would be able to bid and buy her own particular lunch.
Husbands attempted to buy their wives' lunches, but here again, humorous, sometimes not so funny, when some bull-headed husband would bid higher and higher, finally to be awarded a box that was not his wife's but one belonging to a woman who was not a friend, but sometimes a bitter enemy (we had such people, even then) and the resulting unhappy hour they spent together provided great amusement and glee to the rest of us. But these were very rare happenings. Most everybody got the box they wished, the couples paired off and a happy, joyful evening followed. It was a great occasion to visit, swap news, gossip and gather information.
A happy day occurred to our family on February 17, 1847. On this day your grandmother and I decided we had enough money to pay off our debt to her father, W.H. Ellis of New Madrid. He had bought our farm from us during the hard times, following the panic of 1837. He gave us $12.50 per acre, or $500 for our 40 acres, then permitted us to live there and farm it. As conditions in the country improved, we were able to save more and more each year until in 1847, we had enough and more to repay the loan and get our farm back in our own name.
So, on a bright, frosty morning in February 1847 we hitched our mules to our wagon, loaded all five children, warmly dressed, and set out for the courthouse in Benton. As I did many years before, when I drove to New Madrid to propose to your grandmother, Rhoda, we stopped in front of the new brick courthouse, built there in 1844, to replace the old log structure erected in 1822 on the site donated to the county by Col. Wm. Myers, the founder of the town of Benton. Back in the thirties on my way south, I unyoked my oxen on this same spot, so now, we unhitched the mules, unharnessed them, tied them to the wagonbed, bought water from the Inn, fed them in wagon, for we would be here all day, recording the land transfer, looking around the town at the stores, the mill, the tan yard, the saw mill, the livery stable -- at all the interesting places in the large growing county seat. I think I told you before the offices of county clerk, circuit clerk and recorder were all combined under one man until 1856, so on this February morning in 1847 we went into the new courthouse and into the office of Felix G. Allen, showed him our papers showing we'd repaid W.H. Ellis what he asked for the farm, his release of the property to us. Mr. Allen entered the transaction in Book 8, on page 203, we made our marks, Mr. Allen filled in the names and the home-place was ours again.
We had a delicious meal in the public room of the Benton Inn, which was still run by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Rogers, who had opened it back in 1814. They had discontinued the store they had operated in conjunction with the Inn, since the competition of stores operated by McLaughlin, John Harbison, George Netherton and Abe Winchester was too much, so they concentrated on running the Inn. We felt real important that day at the Inn, for there also having dinner (all of us called the noon meal dinnner) were our County Representative Abraham Hunter, County Treasurer A.S. Henderson, County Judge Ed Buckner and Sheriff Henry Spear. All were anxious to meet my wife, Rhoda, for they knew the story of my trip to New Madrid with the ox team, my swift courtship, her acceptance, and our happy life together. All our children did us proud, all bowing and shaking hands, except little Cort who was just over two years old and was very shy, hiding behind his mother's skirt.
We toured the town from end to end; the stores, the mill, clear over to the tan-yard, to the livery stable, looking over the fine horses, mules, the buggies, surreys, fine transportation for us who had to get about in mule-drawn wagons. A last visit was made to the stores where my wife purchased some fine colorful material to make dresses for the two older girls, shirting material for the boys and heavy wool for their pants. Unfortunately for the younger ones, they usually got nothing new. The new things went to the oldest girl and boy, then they were handed down to the younger, smaller ones as the larger outgrew their clothes, then passed them on. One outstanding thing Rhoda found in a store there, new and cheaper than at the stores in Commerce, for some unexplained reason, a coffee mill, or grinder, which she bought, promising better coffee for the future. We loaded up by 3 o'clock, hitched up the team and drove home, all tired but happy.
The next few years were the happiest of our lives. All the family's health was good. The necessities of life we raised on our farm in abundance. Our herds of cattle and hogs increased. The flock of chickens furnished us with plenty of meat and eggs, tho at times we had fights on our hands with hawks, foxes, weasels, even minks. They would fly over, jump over or burrow under, in one way or another, get to our fowls. But by the placing of scarecrows,
traps and dead-falls we were able to protect our birds and reap a nice crop of furs into the bargain.
Rhoda bought a setting of turkey eggs and one of ducks from a neighbor and it was not long before we had a good start with flocks of both around the farm. I have never seen anything as surprised and frustrated as the two "mother hens" Rhoda set on the turkey and duck eggs! When they hatched, the poor mothers were at a loss, baffled and puzzled at the results of their more than three weeks on their nests. The mother of the turkeys
was not too chagrined at the strange-looking little creatures, with their peeping sounds, so different from chickens, but the mother of the duck setting! She, poor thing, was near driven to distraction with her "offspring" and their liking for water, in the drinking fountain, the pig troughs and hog wallow, and later in the creek. She would cluck, order, command and run back and forth trying to get them to follow her, learn to scratch, and find food as
chickens do. But, no! They took to the water, stuck their little heads under, and with their tiny tails twitching, searched the muddy bottom for goodies that only ducks could find! Of course, the next year was different. With the hens of each breed taking to their nests, hatching their own natural brood, that problem was solved to the satisfaction and delight of all.
After a few years, we had feathers from the ducks to provide stuffing for all our pillows, and for our "featherbeds," which made our nights of sleep and rest thru the winters a joy to all of us. Why, as time passed, we went to bed with less and less of our daytime clothes on, finally even sleeping in the nightgowns your grandmother made for all of us out of material she bought in the store in Commerce, which was called "flannel," a nice soft, warm material. It was a long was from those first winters here on the farm, when all I took off at night to go to bed was my boots!
Tho our life on the farm was hard, with many long hours put in, almost in drudgery, for we did not have the conveniences and labor-saving devices we have today, it was not all work, it was not all bad. We had our fun! There were house-raisings, husking-bees, dances, shooting matches, horse racing, wrestling matches, quiltings, camp-meetings, political rallies, gala parties, excursions on the steamboats that regularly stopped at Commerce and made trips up and down the river. Show boats often stopped at the wharves there, and all of us who could afford it, and were so inclined, made a big evening of it, attending the shows they put on on the stages of those "Floating Palaces."
About all the music we normally had around here was the fiddle and banjo, along with the harmonica and jewsharp. Very few people could afford an organ or piano. But on the showboat they had both piano and organ, as well as the violin (we called them "fiddles"). Why, they even had whole bands, or orchestras, as they called them, with drums, fifes, horns, violins, banjos, guitars and bass-violins! It's no wonder, at showboat time, it
was vacation time, time off from work, a great gathering in Commerce, a great chance to visit, see friends, hear wonderful music and stage plays about far-away places! Sometimes, at these gatherings, there were fist fights, cuttings, shootings, the sale of liquor was unrestricted and most of it was raw and potent. At some of these get-togethers, some of the younger, unrestrained bucks in the community and surrounding towns, let their high spirits and the spirits they drank get the best of them and disagreement, pushing, shoving, blows, fights, knifings, even shootings. But, fortunately, these occasions were the exception and not the rule, for most of us were quiet, sober, law-abiding and easy going.
Many, many years before, the trails that extended from Commerce, Benton, Morley, Oran, Blodgett, Winchester (later Sikeston), north to New Hamburg, Kelso and later Scott City and Illmo, all became roads graded and maintained by county forces. This made transportation and getting about much easier, so we had lots and lots of people coming to our town of Commerce, to attend our showboat visits. After these rare visits of the "Floating
Palaces," our family returned home, after midnight, tired, sleepy and happy.
In the early part of 1853, my father, your grandfather, decided to make his will and have it recorded in the courthouse in Benton. By present-day standards, he was not an old man. He was just past 50, but his life had been full and a hard one. He had worked, early and late, year after year, clearing his land, grubbing out the stumps, cleaning up the fields, splitting rails, building rail fences around his property, building, enlarging his house and farm structures, planting, cultivating, harvesting his crops, tending his livestock, increasing his herds, trading and upgrading his oxen, mules and horses.
Anyhow, on the morning of February 15, 1853, he loaded all his family in the wagon, now pulled by two horses he had traded for the previous fall, and set out for the county seat. They arrived about eleven o'clock, pulled the wagon alongside the Inn, on the side street north of the present brick postoffice, unhitched the horses, tied them to the wagon-bed and pushed the hay near them and within reach. Your grandfather went over to the courthouse while your grandmother Rhoda took all the children on a shopping tour of the town. Grandfather went to the office of Felix G. Allen, who was then the county clerk, circuit clerk and recorder, and who had his office on the ground floor of the brick courthouse, built nine years before, in the same relative location as the present recorder, John Bollinger, now has his office. They sat before the fireplace in Mr. Allen's office and grandfather discussed with him what property and possessions he had while Mr. Allen made notes as he talked, and by noon time Mr. Allen had all the facts on paper, and told grandfather that he'd have it all written out, ready for signing, witnessing and recording before 3 o'clock that afternoon.
Grandfather then looked around town, found his family just east of the front door of the courthouse in the "Netherton and Winchester" store, which stood on the lot just north of the present Seabaugh Cafe. They completed their purchases there, then walked north to the corner to the Benton Inn, the old, but enlarged structure that had been built by Col. Myers, the first settler in Benton, and his partner in the hotel business, Ed Rodgers. Tho Col. Myers and Ed Rodgers had previously died, the Inn was operated by Rodgers's son and wife, for it was a good location and they did a thriving business, since they had discontinued their store in the public room and concentrated on serving meals and providing lodging for permanent and temporary guests. Benton and the Inn were busy places. Hunters, traders, trappers, scouts, clerks, lawyers, traveling in both directions along the "Kingshighway" laid out by the Spanish in the 1500s, following the Indian trails, from St. Louis to New Orleans, and now our present U.S. 61, brought many people into the town and to the Inn.
Food storage and preservation presented no problem to the Rodgers. Even in the 1850s, with Benton almost 40 years old, from the first cabin, built by Col. Myers in 1814, and the Inn, erected in 1814-1815, and lots of cabins built since, it was just a matter of stepping a short distance into the surrounding woods, taking a shot at a deer, rabbits, squirrels, or, going farther afield, bears, which provided a welcome change with their "steaks."
So, Mrs. Rodgers and her help furnished us with a fine meal, in the large public room and as your grandmother Rhoda said, "It's doubly good. I don't have to wash up the dishes!" Eating at the Inn was interesting and informative. We saw hunters, traders, peddlers, traveling salesmen, county officials, lawyers and storekeepers of the town. County Judges, John Moore, Alexander Waugh, and E.B. Kelso were having dinner, along with county clerk and recorder Allen, who was working on my will. There was Sheriff H. Winchester just back from St. Louis, where he took over and returned a runaway slave for the Hunters of Sikeston. There was Charles H. Kew, the Assessor, and I had a chance to talk to him about our tax assessments for 1852, which I
thought were too high, and told him so. He reminded me of the two fine horses I'd traded for last year, the new wagon and the two-horse plow I'd bought. It made me angry that I'd forgotten, but pleased that our County Assessor knew enough about his business, and mine, to get me straightened out.
Between 2:30 and 3:00 I returned to the office of Recorder Allen, in the crumbling, shaky brick courthouse. Mr. Allen was sitting at a table in front of the fireplace (for it was a bitterly cold February afternoon) putting the finishing touches on my will. I sat down nearby, took off gloves, overcoat and coonskin cap, and listened while he read what he had written down, according to what I had told him that morning. After he finished I told him
I thought he had covered everything according to my wishes, so he signed it for me, I made my mark on it, Mr. Allen called in Richard Finley and John Moore who were in the adjoining Sheriff's office to witness the instrument. Recorder Allen then placed the paper in Book 10 at page 239. I talked some further with Mr. Allen, and in the conversation found out he was about out of fireplace wood for his office and agreed with him to supply three
cords during the following week.
I shook hands all around, went out the north door of the courthouse, and across the cold, frozen, snow-covered street to Mike McLaughlin's store (where the Scott County Democrat office now stands) where Rhoda had bought some pretty print goods to make the girls their spring dresses. Mr. McLaughlin showed me some hame-books, trace-chains, leather lines and wrought-iron nails, which he said he was discontinuing, since
the stores at Commerce, being on the river, and closer to the source, was underselling him so badly that he could not afford to handle them any longer. I bought what I thought we needed and could pay for, sent the boys to hitch up the team to the wagon and bring it over in front of the store. We loaded our "plunder" and drove home, getting there in time to do all our chores before deep dark.
Father now took up the story: Later that year, 1853, your grandfather died, and we buried him in the family cemetery. He was a fine, kind, hardworking man, tho uneducated, a wise, understanding father, husband, friend and neighbor.
In the 7 years between Father's death in 1853 and the elections of 1860, life on the Hawkins farm went on, maybe not as smoothly as when he was living, but under mother Rhoda's direction, all of we children had our duties and chores, and she saw to it that each did his part. Mother Rhoda laid out our farm work, the planting and rotation of our corn, wheat, hayfields, she and the girls helping the boys during the planting of the corn crop, pumpkins, melons, the garden, which was the mainstay of our bounteous dining table. While the boys took care of the livestock, feeding, pasturing, milking, hoeing and plowing the corn (with a onehorse "double shovel"), hoeing and chopping the weeds from pumpkins, melons, and vegetables in the large kitchen garden, Mother and the girls did the cooking, housekeeping, mending, sewing, churning, butter-making, gathering vegetables, fruits, berries, canning and preserving.
Of course, every Sunday, all of us went to Sunday-school and church. It was a happy welcome break from the long days of each week. We got to visit with friends and neighbors, seeing many that we never saw or visited with except on Sundays. Mother always, in good weather during Spring, Summer and Fall, prepared our Sunday-dinner in boxes and baskets, took it to church with us, earing in cool shade of the trees around the building, along with many other families who had the same ideas about rest, relaxation, visiting, exchanging views and opinions.
During the summer, Mother Rhoda saw to it that we had time to attend a few of the "Show-Boat" that visited Commerce, and she "laid down the law" about we boys visiting any of the taverns that a lot of the young men made it a point to do.
June and July were the months of the hardest work on the farm. Wheat ripened, had to be cut (with a "cradle" - a brush-scythe device, with wooden fingers to hold each stroke of the wheat straw, so every one could be laid apart, separately). Then several separate strokes of wheat were gathered into a "bundle," tied with a "double-band" wheat straws, carefully, expertly and quickly twisted together to give a band twice as long as the single length of the straw in a single band, thus enabling us to tie larger bundles. After the bundles were tied, they were firmly set on the ground on their "butt-ends," that is the end opposite the ends on which the wheat heads were. Several bundles were then set around the two center ones, into what we called a "shock," capped by two bundles, laid opposite wise of each other, with the heads "broken down" to spread them apart to provide a water-tight "cap" for the shock. We usually "cut" or "cradled" our wheat in late June just before it was fully ripe, so it would not shatter as it was being cut and shocked. The crop was allowed to stand in the shock for a week or 10 days, allowing it to fully ripen.
Some farmers, who had big barns and ample storage space, hauled and stored their crop to their barns, to be threshed at their leisure, either by hand, or by one of the few "horse-powered" (or mule power if you had no horses) machines that were coming into use here west of the Mississippi River. We always had the traveling thresher do our work, since Mother Rhoda arranged each year for our farm to be on the operators' early list for the following year. This arrangement saved us a lot of work, since we did not have to haul the whole crop to the barn, then move it out again at threshing time. With the help of neighbors, who "swapped" work with us, we did our threshing near the barn, so our straw-stack would be nearby and handy for bedding of livestock during the winter months.
Almost before we had time to catch our breath, after wheat harvest, came the haying. This, too, was cruel, backbreaking work, cutting by hand, with the scythe but without the "fingers," since we did not "cradle" this crop, but cut it and let it fall to the ground to lay a day or so, depending on the weather, curing, before we came thru the field with our "pitch-forks" (3-tined forks, made of steel, which Rhoda bought for us at Commerce) instead of those heavy cumbersome wooden forks we had used in the past.
In the election of 1856, tho none of us at the farm could vote (since your father died, 1853 and women were not allowed to vote and the children too young) we took a great deal of interest in it anyway. This was the year Scott County separated the office of County Clerk from that of Circuit Clerk and Recorder. Our friend George Pettit had been County Clerk, Circuit Clerk and Recorder until then, but he preferred the County Clerk's office, ran for it and was elected. Chas. D. Cook filed for Circuit Clerk and Recorder and was elected.
But to go back a little. In 1855 the County Court, Judges A. Hughes, J.A. Powell and H. Winchester, following the complaints of office-holders and tax payers, ordered the old brick Courthouse built in 1844 torn down, since it was considered unsafe and dangerous to be in or around. The Court ordered plans drawn for a two-story frame (wooden) structure, the contract let, work proceeded to rapid conclusion and the new building dedicated in the late fall 1856. Mother Rhoda loaded all of us in our wagon that fall morning and we were in Benton before noon. We had dinner at the Walker House, a hotel on the northwest corner of the Square. This Walker House was the first frame house built in Benton, erected by Joseph Hunter in the 1830's. The food was equally as good as the Rodgers at the Benton Inn gave their customers. That afternoon all the elected County officials made speeches at the dedication, including our County Representative to the legislature at Jefferson City, W.P. Darnes. In all these speeches, slavery, secession, preservation of the union, new state both slave or free were discussed. It was puzzling and worrisome.
Life on the Hawkins' farm in the years from 1856 to 1860 proceeded in a happy and prosperous manner. All the children went to school, when the crops permitted, tho the two older boys had to stay home during the fall to harvest the corn crop. The family continued to be early risers, as did most everyone in the country. For there were many chores to be done each morning before school. There were the cows to milk, the horses, mules and hogs to be fed, the cows, cattle, horses, mules to be taken to the pasture, chickens, ducks and turkeys to be cared for, fruits, vegetables, berries to be picked, dug or harvested in the proper season. Fruit to be peeled, cooked, preserved, milk to be churned, butter made, the milk-trough to be filled with fresh water, lunches to be prepared for the children to take to school, shoes to be taken into Commerce to the shoe-repair man (which was very seldom, for most everyone, except "city folks" went bare-footed most of the year, up to November, then starting again in March). We children, on our way to school, also took in eggs and butter for sale or trade at the stores in town. Since Mother Rhoda could see no reason for separate trips for this since we went in five days a week.
I can distinctly remember the presidential campaign of 1860. It was, in looking back on it, one of the most important and exciting events in the history of the nation. The Democrats, split three ways, nominated three candidates while the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln. The contest resulted in Lincoln's election and the leaders of the South declared his election should be just cause for dissolution of the United States. In December, we learned that South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by six other Southern States by February 1861. Then we learned that Fort Sumter was fired on by the South and the Civil War was on.
The people of Missouri became deeply involved by the agitation caused by territorial questions concerning slavery. The state was largely populated by emigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and other Southern States, or by their descendants, and naturally there was wide spread sympathy with the secession movement. Nonetheless, there was much intelligent conversation among the people of the state and "they were not to be frightened from their property by the past unfriendly legislation of the North, nor to be dragoned into secession by the restrictive legislation of the South." It was hard to decide. We had friends and relatives on both sides.
During this long-drawn-out War, Commerce and Scott County were torn between two loyalties. Most of the early settlers were from the slave-holding sections of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee; very few from the North Atlantic region. As a result, they and their descendants were Southern in sympathy, tho very few were large slave owners. These secessionists were often in positions of leadership and the State officials from the area were willing to have Missouri withdraw from the Union. This made it appear on the surface that the whole town and area were predominantly confederate. Later events proved this was not completely the case.
By this time the German immigrants were numerous in the northern part of the County, their arrival here reaching its peak in the 1840's and 1850's, when famines and onerous military conscription in their homelands drove so many of them to this country. The German population was almost 100 per cent Northern in sympathy. As a result, Scott County and Southeast Missouri furnished about as many troops for one side as for the other.
Will, my oldest brother, took Rhoda's advice and went to Cape Girardeau and joined the Union army. He was there when Gen. Grant came down from St. Louis on his way to his headquarters in Cairo, and Will's company was assigned to Grant's command, and went South with him. In February, 1862, Grant and Commodore Foote's naval gunboats took Ft. Henry on the Tennessee River and Ft. Donelson on the Cumberland. This forced the Confederates out of Kentucky and a large portion of Tennessee. A Confederate counter-attack on April 6-7 was stopped by Grant's forces at the Battle of Shiloh. Brother Will, still under Grant's command, went thru all these battles, including the vicious bloody Battle of Shiloh, untouched, unscratched, unwounded. (Will learned after the war that three of his friends from Morley, sons of Lawyer Watkins, John, Will and Richard, all went thru the Battle of Shiloh on the Confederate side, under General Albert Sidney Johnson, who was killed there, a sad loss to the Southern forces.) Major General Pope, with Grant's friend, Commodore Foote, combined forces to take New Madrid and Island No. 10, so the Union forces now controlled the Mississippi all the way south to Vicksburg, where the Confederates held it from there to the Gulf. Admiral Farragut captured New Orleans, leaving the rebels only in control of Vicksburg, a plug in the Mississippi, blocking the Union's control to New Orleans.
In April the forces of Grant and Buell, under Gen. Halleck, marched to Corinth, Miss., where the confederates had retired after the Battle of Shiloh, only to find the Southerners gone, the place abandoned. Next year, 1863, in May, brother Will marched with Grant's army down the west bank of the Miss. river to a place below Vicksburg, crossed the river with the help of Officer David E. Porter's boats, to the east bank, under cover of darkness. In the first 10 days of May, Grant's forces, by rapid marches, fought and defeated the Confederate Gen. Johnson's relieving army for Vicksburg, on five separate occasions, and drove Rebel General Pemberton and his small force into Vicksburg, which Grant proceeded to surround and besiege.
Will now writes in the voice of Union-soldier-Will, uncle of Will-the-newspaper-article's-source.
After Grant's five battles and victories in less than three weeks, he succeeded in cutting off all communications and supplies to Vicksburg and settled down to starve Gen. Pemberton and the Rebels into submission and surrender. The constant shelling and incessant probings of the Infantry kept the Southerners off balance, closing the siege-ring around the city tighter and tighter. On July 3rd, 1863, Gen. Pemberton, under a flag of truce, rode to Gen. Grant's headquarters to discuss surrender terms. Grant was polite but firm: "Unconditional Surrender" were his terms (that's where Grant got the name Unconditional Surrender Grant, tho his name actually was Ulysses Simpson Grant). Pat's note: his name was Hiram Ulysses, changed in error at West Point. Gen. Pemberton, with practically no ammunition, no food and starving army and town folk, agreed to the conditions, so on the following day July 4, 1863, surrendered the city and his forces to Gen. Grant. On this same day, hundreds of miles to the northeast, in Pennsylvania, at Gettysburg, Pickett's charge was repulsed by the Union forces under Gen. Meade, and Gen. Lee's army suffered its most crushing defeat of the Civil War. But Gen. Meade, his army victorious, tho exhausted, allowed Gen. Lee and his rebels to escape into Virginia.
Those early days in July, 1863, were hopeful ones to all of us in Gen. Grant's forces. Vicksburg captured, Port Hudson, 200 miles down river surrendered (as President Lincoln said, "The Mississippi now rolls unvexed to the sea."). Lee's defeat on July 4th, his retreat into Virginia, with a 17-mile-long wagon train of frightfully wounded men, leaving a trail of shocked horror thru the once peaceful countryside.
Never in this nation's history had Americans worked harder for victory than in the Civil War. Both sides threw themselves into the task of supplying their respective armies. Both governments made tremendous demands on civilians, and, in general, received willing cooperation. By 1863, the northern economy was rumbling along at great speed. Everything from steamboats to scoop shovels was needed, and produced. Denied Southern cotton, textile mills turned to wool for blankets and uniforms. (It was pitiful to see the condition of the Rebels at Vicksburg; torn, worn-out clothes; you couldn't call them uniforms, on tired, hungry, starving soldiers. It made us Union boys, well-fed, well-clothed, with good guns and plenty of ammunition, cry to see them.) Hides by the thousands were turned into shoes, harness, saddles; ironworks manufactured locomotives, guns, cannons, armorplate. Agriculture boomed, with machinery doing the work of farm workers drawn into the army. King wheat replaced King Cotton in foreign trade. In short, everything the Union needed to fight this war was being produced in uncounted numbers.
Life behind the Confederate lines was grimmer. At the outbreak of hostilities the South was pitifully short of everything except good fighting men, and its economy moved backward at an increasing rate as the conflict went on. The Confederate currency, unbacked by anything substantial, became worth less and less, until by the end of 1864, it was worth nothing at all. Altho the South managed to keep its superb fighting men supplied with weapons and ammunition all thru the war (with most of it from captured Union forces) it was hard pressed to feed and clothe its men. (Those fighting Rebels we fought in Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee, while superbly armed, were so poorly dressed and many of them were barefooted, particularly from March to November).
After Vicksburg, the bulk of our Union army wandered around the moutainous country of northern Mississippi and Georgia, trying to come to grips with the Rebel Gen. Bragg's forces. Finally on Sept. 10th the two armies met in gloomy woodlands around Chickamauga Creek, about a dozen miles south of Chattanooga. All the first day's fighting was indecisive, but the next day Gen. Longstreet, who had been sent west with 2 divisions from Lee's army, punched a hole in the Union center, where I was fighting, and split our forces in half. Most of our Union forces fled toward Chattanooga, but Gen. Thomas, under whose command I was at the time, pulled enough of our men together to resist the Rebels and hold our ground. This engagement earned for Thomas the name "Rock of Chickamauga" and gained enough time for all our forces to safely escape to Chattanooga.
Chickamauga was the only important victory the South ever won in the West, and the Rebel Gen. Hooker proceeded to throw it away. In spite of the pleadings of his officers, he let us establish ourselves in Chattanooga, while he was content to occupy Missionary Ridge, overlooking the city, and sit there trying to starve us into surrender. Later we learned the high command in Washington jumped into action. Lincoln insisted that heavy reinforcements be sent from Meade's army in Virginia and from Sherman's forces in Memphis. Gen. Rosecran's of the Union forces, who had allowed us to be bottled up in Chattanooga, was replaced by Gen. Thomas, and to our great joy, Gen. Grant was made supreme commander in the West.
Grant's first job was to open a supply line to surrounded Chattanooga, which he proceeded to do. It's a little out of the way, but Grant's plans and our boiling tempers all joined to get us out of besieged Chattanooga. We had been so derided and joked about by the forces sent from Virginia and Memphis, their saying they had to come "rescue" us. Grant's order of the day was a "feint" attack at Missionary Ridge, where Rebel Gen. Bragg's Confederates were entrenched. We delivered the "feint" as ordered, alright, then, without orders, we charged directly up the steep face of the ridge and drove Bragg's Confederates reeling back into Georgia. We showed who had to be "rescued."
Will, our newspaper-article-source, first identified Will as the son Rhoda sent off to war under Grant. He then changed to that soldier's voice. Now he changes back, but calls Tom the son who fought under Grant - whereas Tom is the son who should be telling this story to 'our' Will. So it goes in personal narratives; stick with him.
While my brother Thomas E. II was with the Union Army in Tenn., under Grant, and brother Cortland, or "Cort," as we called him, was with the Union forces at Cape Girardeau, life at the farm south of Commerce rolled on. During the war, they were hard years, with the two boys in the Army, we missed their capable, willing help, and it piled a great deal of work and responsibility on me and on our mother, Rhoda, as well as the two girls, Harriett and young Rhoda. Life had to go on. The livestock had to be fed and cared for. The crops planted, tended and harvested, the garden looked after, its products gathered, processed, canned, preserved; the fruits and berries, picked and taken care of. We all worked out a system, I doing the feeding, milking and tending the stock, planting, cultivating and harvesting as I could, with mother and the girls helping with the hoeing, chopping and harvesting, when the load was too much and the time too short. They had their duties. The cooking, mending, sewing, gardening, berry and fruit picking, canning, preserving, then helping me when the work became too much and I got too far behind.
Raids and counter-raids took place across the County and thru Benton, tho seldom was Commerce bothered, for there was always a goodly force of Union soldiers there. Often the Union soldiers would drive south out of Cape Girardeau, pushing the Rebels out, and farther south; then, with renewed force, quick and slashing raids, by daring, well-mounted Confederates, and often guerilla bands, masquerading as "Confederates," would ride thru and assume control over the territory and the County seat, Benton, for a time.
Late in 1862, a group of "white trash" Union cavalry took over the Courthouse, ransacked it, stealing everything of value, threw books, papers and records helter-skelter over the floors, walked, tramped over them, even rode their horses thru the offices and halls on the lower floor, set fire and tried to burn everything. But, as you know, books are mighty hard to start a fire with so they just smouldered, then went out. (Many record books, in the Courthouse today, charred and smudged, attest to this senseless raid.) But while the group of Yankee sore-heads were in the Courthouse, destroying and trying to burn the place, young Myers, grandson of Col. Wm. Myers, founder of Benton, saw the raiders coming into town, and before they had even decided what devilment they'd do, he mounted his father's horse, and without a saddle rode bareback to Morley, where he knew that a small force of Rebel horse-soldiers were camped. Within 30 or 40 minutes after the Yankees came storming into the town from the north, some 40 Rebs were riding and yelling up the hill past the Bollinger place, south of town and into the Courtyard square. As usual, these hot-headed, hard-riding Confederates, many of them 16 and 17 years old, made so much noise, yelling and shouting, that the Yanks had ample warning, and thinking, from the noise being made by the approaching Rebels, that a whole battalion must be charging up the hill, rushed out of the Courthouse, with its smouldering fires in all offices, mounted their horses and rode hell-bent towards Cape Girardeau. The boys from Morley quickly put out the fires, but left the place in a shambles.
The County Court Record of June 23, 1862 states: "Ordered by the Court that all legible papers, scattered throughout the Courthouse, be collected, sorted, preserved, the Clerk of the Court to place the Court records in his office, those of the Circuit Clerk and other offices in a proper place, secure them, later to be delivered to the proper authority." Benjamin Benefield, Wm. Prince and Chas. Messmer were County Judges who signed the Order and Thomas J. Allen the County Clerk whose chore it was to clean up the place.
While our farm near Commerce was never bothered by the Union forces from the town, we had several scares and threats from the Rebel raiders who rode up from the South. Most of the groups were small, the men young, tired, dirty, hungry. Mostly they wanted food and forage for their horses, but a scattered few made "eyes" at the two girls, and once, a romantic young hot-head from Tenn., attempted, as a start, to hug and kiss sister Rhoda, but a slap in the face from mother, and a stern order from Lt. Ellis from New Madrid, a second cousin of mother, what started out to be a love-scene and maybe more, was stopped almost before it got started.
We were hard-pressed, sometimes, when a large force stopped by for food and feed for their horses. We scraped the "bottom of the barrel" many times to feed them and their horses. Our pleading and reasoning with them not to take everything had results, for most of them were young, had sisters at home, were from farms in the South, and realized the needs we had to save something to feed ourselves and our livestock. Most of the Rebel visits were just plain "visiting" and feeding them, then they were on their way, but one visit I'll never forget. Our brother "Cort" had leave from his company in Cape to visit with us for a few days, to help with the crops, when, one night, about a dozen Rebs rode in, wanting food and feed. Seeing "Cort" there and knowing we had two brothers in the Union army, and finding him, out of uniform, since he was helping with the farm work, then later finding his uniform and papers hanging in a closet, arrested him as a Union spy! They permitted him to change from his work clothes into others, but would not let him put on his Union uniform. That was their argument: a Yankee, in "Southern" territory, in civilian clothing -- he had to be a spy! So "Cort" in the company of two Rebels, mounted their horses and rode off toward New Madrid where he would be hanged as a spy!
As the two Confederate troopers rode from Commerce towards New Madrid, with their captive "Cort" (my brother Cortland), somewhere northwest of Blodgett, between there and Benton, they decided to stop, camp and rest, then resume their journey in the morning. They chose a spot on St. Johns bayou (which has long since been drained by the present St. John's ditch) in order to have water for themselves and their horses and wood for their fire, for the night was chilly. After they got the fire going, and sat around it, "Cort" persuaded them to untie his hands, since as he told the two boys, "You have the guns and the horses; I wouldn't have a chance on getting away; I just want to be comfortable and enjoy the warmth of the camp-fire." They untied him and proceeded to talk about the War, where they had been, what they had done, and questioned "Cort" about his life and duties in the Union army at Cape Girardeau. The talk then got around to the clothes "Cort" was wearing. It was a fine coat, and one of the troopers admired it very much. He told "Cort," "You won't have any need for that fine coat in a few days. You'll be dead, and can just as well be buried in my old jacket. Let's swap!" "Cort" hemmed and hawed, trying to get the boy more anxious to trade, for he had in mind to get away, somehow, for he had no intention of being taken to New Madrid and hanged as a spy. Finally "Cort" removed his coat, then holding it in his hands, told the Rebel soldier to take his off and try on "Cort's" for size. "Oh! it will fit, alright," the fellow said, as he started to remove his own jacket, first setting his rifle against a log. Just as he had both hands busy with his jacket, "Cort" threw his own coat in the Reb's face, hit him a powerful blow in the stomach, grabbed his rifle and fired at the other Rebel who was sitting across the fire from them. "Cort" said later he didn't want to shoot the youngster, just scare him. He scared him, alright.
The boy dropped his gun, fell backwards off the log and "Cort" ran towards where the horses were tied, got his own horse untied, turned, fired at the Rebel who was just raising his head above the log he had fallen off of, jumped on his horse, kicked his sides and rode toward the water, firing as he went. He stayed on the animal until past mid-stream, fired one last shot towards the camp fire, dropped his rifle in the water, slid off the horse, slapped him hard, sending him towards the bank, and dived deep towards the shore. He swam under water as long as he could, turning north away from the line of his flight from the campfire, reached the bank, and, out of the firelight, quietly crawled in among the bushes and looked across at the campfire. The Rebs over there were both busy firing at the noise my horse was making as he clambered and snorted his way up the bank and into the brush.
So while the Rebs were busy firing at the noise the horse was making, "Cort" quickly ran north up the bank of the bayou, then slowing down, got his bearings and cut across country, heading back to our farm south of Commerce. He reached there as the sun was rising and received a tearful, thankful welcome from mother, sisters and brother. After the horrible ordeal of the night before, "Cort" firmly resolved never again to be out of uniform till this terrible war was over.
From my earliest memories of my father, Thomas E. Hawkins, II, I recall vividly, his stories of life on this old farm, the struggles of the family to make ends meet, to clear the land, raise the crops, build the house, the barn and out-buildings, grandfather's whirlwind courtship of grandmother Rhoda from New Madrid, her determination to educate their children, her insistence on them all attending church and Sunday School in Commerce, her example of working hard, then playing the same way when chores were done. Her pushing and leading grandfather Asa into improving the house, the farm, the livestock, always upgrading the crops, the cattle, hogs and chickens.
Grandmother Rhoda died 10 years before I was born in the same old log home they both helped build, and in which they raised their family. The outstanding characteristic of her life was her energy, determination and love of life. She always led the way in getting the family ready for and attending any social function in the neighborhood. Sunday School and Church led the list, but spelling bees, pie suppers, dances, house and barn raisings, wrestling matches, foot races, showboats at Commerce and steamboat rides from Commerce to Cape Girardeau with a return trip on another packet, if connections could be arranged, and if not, one of the boys, or father, would drive a wagon to Cape and pick up the family for the return home after all the others made the trip on those wonderful floating palaces, the steamboat.
There were weddings and christenings, and funerals to attend. They never missed a chance to go to the County seat at Benton or into Commerce for there was so much activity there, along the riverfront, when the steamboats landed, unloaded and took on cargo of hay, corn, wheat, livestock, tho mostly these bulky commodities were shipped by barge, pushed by river workboats, not nearly so fancy as the packet-boats that carried passengers, and had staterooms, with beds and bunks where people could sleep, and long, wide dining rooms where wonderful meals were served to the passengers. Father often spoke of all the children's desires to ride a steamboat to St. Louis and get to sleep overnight in a stateroom, and have meals in the wonderful, beautiful dining room.
While Uncle Will was in the east with Grant wearing down Gen. Lee and the Rebels, Uncle "Cort" was stationed in Cape Girardeau, and often made forays into Scott county, particularly from Benton, south to drive back the Confederates. Things got so bad with the Rebel raids that on January 26, 1864, the Mo. Legislature passed an Act "removing the County Seat of Scott County from the Town of Benton to the Town of Commerce," so, on Wednesday, May 28, 1864, the County Court, consisting of Judges Wm. Prince, Benjamin Benefield, and Charles Messmer issued this Court Order: "The County seat be moved from Benton to Commerce and there being no courthouse there, it is therefore ordered by this Court that the Courts of the County will be held at the Brick Church of Commerce, which said house is hereby designated and appointed by the Court as the place for holding Courts of the County of Scott until further notice of this Court."
"The County Court further orders the Sheriff of this said County, B.F. Sillman, sell the building heretofore known as the Courthouse in the Town of Benton to the highest bidder, for cash in hand, sale to take place July 2, 1864, at the door of the Courthouse in Commerce ... it is further ordered that the fence around said building be sold ... and that proceeds of sale of building be applied toward construction of a County Jail in Commerce." County officials moved to Commerce and into the Brick Church until the Courthouse, a two-story brick structure was built and completed in 1865. A $3,800 brick jail was built the following year.
As the year's end drew near, 1864, Grant's declaration "I'll fight it out here if it takes a year!" bore fruit and Gen. Lee was hounded from the "Wilderness" to Petersburg, RIchmond, to Appatomax [sic], where on April 15, 1865, he surrendered "Unconditionally" to Gen. U.S. Grant and the 4-year Civil War was over! "Uncle Cort" was mustered out of the Union Army at Cape in May and Will out of Grant's army in June and the whole family was re-united on the old home place once more!
The summer of 1865, after the Civil War, was a hard one for our re-united family. The homestead had run down a great deal, because, with only one son at home, to do all the field work, repair and maintenance on the farm buildings and fences, it was just too much for one man; so first things had to be done first, and those which could not be accomplished, had to be put aside, awaiting rainy days, winter time, or the return of the boys from the army.
That summer of 1865 saw many accomplishments on the old home place. The boys were all grown men, now, with years of experience in fighting, marching, cooking, washing their clothes, mending them, maintaining their equipment, brought back to the farm many abilities they never dreamed of when they left, 4 years before. Their skill with carpenter tools, tools of the woods, axes, sledges, wedges, cross-cut saw, tools of the fields, plows, cultivators, harrows, scythes, mowing blades, the use of their hands, their strong backs and their heads. The crops were cared for properly, plowed, cultivated, hoed clean, for the first time since 1861!
The house, barn and out-buildings got a thorough going-over, from foundations to roofs. Shakes were replaced on the roof, chinking put back in between logs all over the house; boards, loose, broken, gone, were replaced. Gates, sagging, wired-up, broken, were repaired, re-hung, free-swinging once again. Work on the fences started at the house and barn, the barn-lots, cow-lots, pig pens, then on out arounds the pastures horse-high, bull-strong and hog-tight.
All these repairs had to take their proper place in the routine of cultivating, laying-by and harvesting the crops, for grandmother Rhoda ruled the farm and the family with an iron hand, and insisted that every grain of wheat, rye, oats be harvested and saved; every stalk of corn, every ear be gathered from the fields, stored, cribbed, so that the greatest amount of flour, meal, hog, mule, horse and cattle feed be stored, sold or bartered!
There was lots of work that summer, but there was time for fun and play. Late in the fall, the new brick Courthouse was opened to the public and dedicated with great fanfare, speech-making, square-dancing, barbecue, picnic, and a great deal of beer and some hard liquor! Our County representative, N.C. Johnson, was there; so were the three County Judges, Benjamin Benefield, Wm. Prince and Charles Messmer; Wm. Ballentine, County Clerk; Sheriff B.F. Sillman, who was also the Collector; Vincent Heisserer and County Treasurer Charles O. Cook. Great talk was made about our new Courthouse, the growing County, the preserved Union, the growing Nation, the increasing prosperity, and everybody wanted to take credit for all of it!
As the years rolled on after the war, Commerce continued to be the county seat. Scott County grew; more and more timber was cut, more land cleared, put into cultivation, more people moved in, settled.
In the 1860's, the railroad was extended from Bird's Point, in Mississippi County, across the river from Cairo, thru Charleston, Sikeston and on to Poplar Bluff. In 1869 the "Iron Mountain" line was completed through Oran, Morley, Blodgett, Charleston and on to Belmont, on the Mississippi River. These railroads provided better, quicker, cheaper transportation, for exporting timber, lumber, grain, livestock, farm and field products, and for importing new, improved machinery, tools, furniture, household goods and supplies.
Although all these things continued to ebb and flow thru the port of Commerce, the railroads sounded the death of steamboating. The railroads ran thru the important towns of the counties, and eliminated the long drives to Commerce, Bird's Point, New Madrid or Cape Girardeau, for either shipping or bringing in supplies. Farmers in the north part of the County continued to ship and buy from the steamboats at Commerce and Cape, but from Benton south, with two railroads crossing the County, farmers, merchants and the traveling public turned to the closer, faster transportation, and Commerce passed its pinnacle as the transportation center of the County.
Sometimes, I get ahead of my story. I got so interested in the Civil War, my Father and my uncle's actions and exploits, that I passed over many vital happenings there on the farm south of Commerce which affected all our family.
Grandfather Thomas E. Hawkins I, who homesteaded our farm, back in the 1830's, died in 1853, and was buried beside his first wife, the child-bride he brought from Tennessee, on the old homeplace. As my Father told it to me, it was a sad day for all the family and his many neighbors. He was admired, respected, even envied by some, for the fine farm and home he, with the help of his wife Rhoda, had hewed out of the wilderness, and made it a show-place in the community.
There was much weeping and wailing among our family and friends at the funeral service, held in our big living room, and at the grave-side, later, but Grandmother Rhoda, tho we know she suffered thru it all, reliving the many years of hard work and sacrifice they had both contributed to making this wild, untamed place a wonderful home for all of us -- she moved thru it all calm, dry-eyed, stern, thoughtful, understanding, helpful, loving, cheering, patting the heads of the children, embracing them, encouraging them -- gazing, from the open grave ready to receive her husband's body, out across the pastures and fields to the house, barn and out-buildings back to the grave, the coffin -- then gave the signal to lower his body to its final resting place, on the land he cared for so much.
She held the family and farm together thru all the years, up to the war, and thru those four, terrible years -- then, with the help of her re-united family, again brought it back to the charming, efficient, "homey" place it was before Grandfather died.
A few years after the war, our Aunt Rhoda, the first child of Thomas E. Hawkins I and his wife Rhoda, married James K. Polk Chewning. Uncle Will Hawkins married a neighbor girl, and raised a family nearby. My Father, Thomas E. Hawkins II, married Clara Robinson, a girl from a family that moved in from Alabama after the war. To this union, nine children were born, all in the old home, built by Grandfather. These children were: Emma, Fannie, Delia, Bertie, Virgie [maternal grandmother of this website's owner], Thos. E. III, Will (that's me), Irtie, and Joe. (Jumping ahead almost 80 years, four survive: Mrs. Bertie Taylor, Cape; Mrs. Sherwood Smith, Charleston; Joe Hawkins, Cape; Will Hawkins, who encourage the writing of this rambling account, here on the old home-place, fashioned by the blood, sweat and tears of my Grandfather and his wonderful wife Rhoda, so many years ago.)
But to get back to my story. In 1878, Grandmother Rhoda died, tall, slender, strong-willed, stone-faced, aggressive, possessive, determined, a hard worker, "a slave-driver" as my Father told of her, but so loving, generous and understanding with all. Tho she died some 10 years before I was born, I got the wonderful word-picture of her, painted by my Father, for he thought she was the most wonderful character he ever knew, who took our easy-going, friendly, good-natured Grandfather, Thos. E. I, and made him a successful farmer, community member and Father.
The years between the Civil War and grandmother Rhoda's death in 1878 were hard-working years for all the Hawkins Family on the farm south of Commerce. Grandmother, always a pusher and driver, urged, ordered and led the brothers to push the clearing of the remainder of the farm, selling and banking the income. She insisted on increasing and improving the herd of hogs and cattle, upgrading the dairy herd and the flock of chickens. Her insistence on intensive gardening and truck patches, fruit trees and berry bushes. As she preached, time and again, "raise and preserve our own food and we'll have more money in the bank." At her death, the family finances were in the best shape they had ever been, so father Thomas E. II decided to tear down the old log house, which had stood for more than 40 years, and move it to a new location, a short distance down the road, where it stood until the late 1890's, when fire destroyed it.
Our weekly shopping trips to either Commerce or Benton made us aware that the people of the county were dissatisfied wit the "off-center" location of the County Seat at Commerce. Finally, in 1878, enough pressure was brought by Scott County Representative Marshall Arnold on the State Legislature, that it authorized the County Court to hold an election, letting the people of the county express their feelings as to the desired location for the Seat of Justice. In 1879, the County Court in Commerce published the results of the election, showing that more than two-thirds of the qualified voters wished the "Seat of Justice" returned to Benton. The following year, steps were taken to return the County offices and Courts to Benton. A three-room building was erected in the southeast corner of the Courtyard, housing the offices of the Sheriff, Recorder and Treasurer. In 1883, the second brick Courthouse was completed in Benton, at a cost of $11,000. It was a two-story structure 40x70 feet. The jail at Commerce was torn down and moved to Benton, being erected in the southwest corner of the Courtyard. The small three-office building in the southeast corner of the Courtyard continued to be occupied by Sheriff Geo. Arnold and his successor Jasper Trotter, Treasurer Vincent Heisserer and Recorder and Circuit Clerk John M. Leftwich and Pros. Atty. DeReign who squeezed in with the Sheriff.
The old brick Courthouse built in 1865 in Commerce was turned into a schoolhouse, which was used until 1896, when it was torn down, being declared "unsafe" for the school children. (I attended school there, going thru the first three grades in that old building. --- Will Hawkins.)
Scott County, Commerce and Benton continued to prosper, with a slow, steady expansion. In the early 1890's, Mr. Houck of Cape Girardeau succeeded in completing his railroad from Cape thru Commerce, past Benton (later in 1900 to become Lambertville) thru Morley, Vanduser, Crowder, to Morehouse, connecting with the Mo. Pac. from Poplar Bluff, thru Sikeston and Charleston, and finally extending to Pascola, Ark. This railroad did much to improve the conditions of the entire County, taking the productions of the many towns directly from their "doorsteps" and bringing in all the many necessities of the growing County.
From the files of the Democrat, August 11, 1893: "Railroad to have passenger service by Aug. 20 and depots will be built in Commerce, under the hill at Benton and at Morley." In the same issue under "Commerce News": "Railroad is complete and first train has gone over it."
Newspaper Editor's Note:
This is the final episode of the Hawkins Story, researched from County Records, compiled and edited, from an outline furnished by Will Hawkins, along with his descriptions and stories from his father, mother and uncles as well as his own vivid memory of his full and active life. The Editor.
Chapter 19 (continued)
As a child I can remember the disastrous fire that swept the west side of the Benton business district. It started on the morning of Oct. 23, 1893, cause by a "hot bearing" at Mr. Damons' flour mill, located about where Sam Stuckey's Service Station now stands. The fire, fanned by a strong southeast wind, quickly consumed the mill, jumped the street, rapidly burning the stores, shops, Postoffice, the "Record" shop, forerunner of The Democrat
, on thru the entire block east of the Courthouse, including the old Benton Inn, descendant of the first tavern, built by Edmund Rodgers, back in 1812.
Father and mother took all of us children over to Benton to see the smouldering ruins that same day. It was a disaster which was discussed for many years. Maybe that's why I remember it so well. It probably is not what I saw and remembered from that day, but what was talked about in the following months and years that so impressed itself on my childish memory.
Clean-up and rebuilding started immediately. In the meantime, the Postoffice and the Benton Record were welcomed into the Newsboy Printing Office on the southwest corner of the square where Phil Hafner published his newspaper. The other hotel, the Walker House, and various places of business carried the community load while the east side was rebuilding, but it was almost seven years before Mr. Damon got his new flour mill back in operation.
In 1898 the United States declared war on Spain, and Commerce, Benton, all of Scott County, furnished their quota of men who served and died for their country.
I can remember hearing my father and uncles talk about the first drainage contract that was let back in 1856 for draining the swamplands of the County, but only lots of talk and little work was done until 1899. The Johnson Land Co. began and completed a ditch, beginning about three miles southeast of Benton, running southwardly several miles and emptying into the North Cut Cypress Slough, some four miles north of the New Madrid County Line. In 1900, a contract was let and the work completed on the North Cut Cypress ditch. It started about three miles from Commerce, passing about a mile west of Diehlstadt, emptying into the New Madrid swamps, which were to be drained into the Mississippi River. The St. John's Ditch, District No. 2, started in the St. John's Marsh, on the Benton-Charleston road (near where Uncle Cort escaped from the Rebels during the Civil War). Flowed south thru this marsh and on thru St. John's Lake to the County Line on about the same location as the first ditch laid out and dug by horses, mules and slipscapers, some 44 years before.
I keep talking about drainage, but it had so much to do with the growth and prosperity of the County. Other drainage districts were organized and put into operation, rapidly draining the deepest and most extensive swamps. Thousands of acres of timber were made accessible for logging, clearing and cultivation. Land values rose steadily over the years, until the depression of 1932.
I grew up on the old homestead my grandfather and mother carved out of the wilderness. It was a happy, care-free life. I took part in all the local social affairs, was a good dancer, reasonably handsome, big, "two-fisted," could keep up my part in barn or house-raisings, shucking-bee's, or any field work and sometimes thought I exceeded in the finer, delicate social graces, as far as the girls were concerned.
I was born, raised and lived my life on the farm here, southwest of Commerce, homesteaded by my grandfather in 1832. My Father increased grandfather's holdings, and I was able by hard work, and maybe good luck, to push the farm up to 180 acres.
Scott County and Commerce have been good to me, thru the years. I have seen Commerce change from a busy, thriving, prosperous river port, bringing in all the many items a growing County needed to satisfy the ever-increasing population, shipping out much of the rising production of the surrounding area. Then, after the Civil War, I saw Commerce change, as the railroad came thru town, connected to the other lines thru Morley, Oran, Blodgett, Sikeston, Charleston, Morehouse, on into Arkansas. This change affected the river traffic, cutting down the volume of goods coming to the wharves there, and diminishing the flow of produce from the County. Farmers found that the railroads brought the world's goods to their door and that shipping their production was far more profitable over the railroads than the longer trip to Commerce and the steamboats, even though the freight rates on the river were far lower than on the railroads.
These changes slowly affected the busy town of Commerce, and over the years, starting with the removal of the Courthouse, in 1876, transferring it back to Benton, the river traffic dropping as the railroads took over more and more freight, Commerce slowly settled into a quiet, charming and dignified town. As the railroads dealt the river traffic a death blow, the cars, trucks and airplanes took more and more freight and passengers from these same railroads, so, as the years passed, first, passenger trains were discontinued, then slowly, freight train after freight train was taken out of service, finally the entire line was ripped out and abandoned. So in the 1930's, Commerce, losing its river traffic, then its railroad, settled quietly into a lovely country town, with its many fine homes, and wide, tree-lined streets, supplied and connected with the rest of the County and the world, by cars and trucks.
The United States, Missouri, Scott County and Commerce have been good to my family and to me over the years, maybe far better than I have been to them, but then life has been so interesting, and I so full of vim, vigor and vitality, that the joyous spirit of living probably caused me to do many things I should not, but not one thing have I done that I would not do, again, if I had it to live over, nor do I regret or am ashamed of any one of them.
As I look back over the years of the life I have lived on this old homestead, carved out of the wilderness by my grandfather Asa and his lovely, tall, ambitious wife Rhoda, I think of the joy and fun of it, of the hard work, the many hours of digging, saving, scraping, doing without, planning, hoping, wishing, being disappointed, then starting over again. Since I was born and raised on the farm, I tried farming in my earlier years, but found it too slow and tame, so I tried teaching combined with farming, finding that the hard work and loneliness of farming was counter-balanced by the fun of teaching, being with people, movement, activity, challenges, problems, accomplishments. Thru the years, we set out fruit trees, raised fruit, along with other farm crops, some livestock and to me, a wonderful family, four daughters, one adopted and a son. Like my grandfather Asa, so many years ago, with his wonderful wife Rhoda, so I, too, owe so much to my wife Alta, with her quiet understanding, her faith in me, and what I wanted to do.
During World War I, I tried to volunteer, went to St. Louis to join, but they said they "didn't need me," so I returned home, and to the farm, its crops, fruit trees, livestock.
In June 1918 I traveled to Kentucky, proposed to the "light of my life," Miss Alta Smith, was accepted, returned to Commerce with her, got Tilman Anderson to drive us to Benton, were married there and returned to the farm.
Sometimes I get ahead of myself in this story, so I must go back before I was born, to the 1870's, when my Father decided to tear down the old log house, built by his Father in 1832, and move it a few hundred feet down the road to its present location. I sometimes asked Father why he moved the old house from its original location, to where it now stands. Always, his answer was, "It's a better location, and I like it more where it is." He removed the old house, log by log, discarding the rotten bottom logs, using all the rest, the logs, the sheathing, the ceiling, the flooring, the roof shakes, everything that was sound and fit to use. The rebuilt house stood for 25 years, then in 1896, it burned to the ground completely, destroying everything we owned. Father was a strong, determined, bull-headed man and immediately started the rebuilding, on the same spot he had chosen a quarter of a century before.
Looking back at the new house, built when I was only 7 or 8 years old, it seemed vast, with lots of rooms, to me, big rooms, with a porch across the front, facing the road. Now, after 72 years, after 50 years of married life in it, the house seems mighty small, the rooms tiny.
Now, as I sit on this same old front porch, looking around this old house, built by my Father, memories of him flood back to me. His youth, strength, vitality, his love of life, and his last years in a wheel-chair. A fence-building accident broke and mangled a leg so badly, it had to be removed, the operation taking place in this north bedroom, behind me, here. He wore a peg-leg for years, hobbling about, carrying on his work until a logging accident (in which he should not have been involved, but no one could make him sit back, let others do what he thought he must do) broke his other leg, and his peg leg, too. His remaining leg, mashed beyond saving, was also removed in this same north bedroom, and after his slow recovery, he took to a wheel-chair, which, over the years, he learned to manipulate very handily. As the years passed, he gained weight enormously, and it became a chore to life him into and out of the buggy, for he continued his visiting and his trips into Commerce.
This story about him may sound strange, but it is true. Father was brought into Court on an "Assault and battery" charge! We had placed him in the buggy, with his wheel-chair in the back, and driven him to a farm sale, where we had to lift him from the buggy to the wheel chair, so he could "see what's going on better." The facts are best brought out by the Court records. It seems that a big, husky farmer from the lower part of the County was at the sale, and made some, to Father, slighting remarks about Father's fat, legless body and about an old man being at a farm sale in a wheel chair. Father was furious, and goaded and taunted, insulted the man until he stepped close enough to Father, tho actually not closer than four feet, when Father reached out with the curved end of his "walking cane" which he always carried with him in the wheel-chair, a habit formed during his years with the peg-leg -- anyway Father taunted the man to step close enough, the curved handle of the cane caught the unsuspecting farmer's arm, Father jerked him off his feet, and across Father's lap, in the wheel-chair, where Father got his powerful hands and arms about the man, then holding him tightly with his left arm, beat and pummeled the farmer's face to a pulp, threw him to the ground, ordered me to push him back to the buggy and drive him home. Incidentally the case was thrown out of Court, due to "aggravating circumstances," so the record reads.
As I sit here, thinking back to that Capt. John Hawkins , who with Sir Francis Drake, in late 1500's saved England from the Spanish Armada, and to whom Queen Elizabeth bestowed knighthood and wealth beyond most men's wildest dreams, I consider that I too am just as wealthy. I can look any and every man in the eye and tell him to go to hell. This home, these hills, these woods, these fertile acres, grubbed from the wilderness by my ancestors, my family, and me -- they are all mine, free, unencumbered -- MINE!
I have lived life to the fullest, have tasted the bitter with the sweet, have grubbed stumps, logged, cleared land, formed, dug, loaded and hauled gravel (from our own farm), raised, picked and peddled fruit, swapped farm work, taught school, never turned down a job where I could make a dollar, though I've taken a few where I lost money, but we can't win them all! I've never, knowingly, spoke ill of any man or woman, and with women, tho I've gotten my face slapped a few times I've had fun through it all, and have no regrets -- except I wish I felt stronger so I could pretty up this place more on the outside so it would match the way I want it to look to all the world.
So now, after celebrating our 50th Wedding Anniversary last month, with all our children here with us, with many of their children, too, with friends present, also we can sit, together, after more than 50 years on this same spot, look to the hills and across our fertile acres, which good friends and neighbors farm for us, look back on a busy, fruitful life, and forward to a calm, contented future.
That's it: Will's complete writeup. Thanks for visiting and reading his story. As Will refers to his 50th anniversary, he must have done the main writing of the story in 1968; but Will's age reference in the lead-in to the article indicates it was published around September 1971. Will lived on till 10 Dec 1974, so he saw his 85th birthday. You'll find some family notes and documentation on my Hawkins charts.
Also on this site: Asa's land transactions * * * Hawkins wills