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Memories of Old Spring Hill, Missouri
by Douglass Stewart
Sweet Auburn: Loveliest Village of the Plain,
Where health and plenty cheering the laboring swain,
Where smiling Springs its earliest visit paid,
And parting Summer's lingering blooms delayed:
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please;
How often have I loitered o'er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene:
When Jesse Nave, in the year 1831, accompanied by his wife, left his native state of Tennessee, traversed the unknown country to a spot in the wilderness now know as Spring Hill, Mo. And erected a log cabin - a double one - for a home, and for a store for the sale of merchandise, he became the first settler, and first promoter of a trading post in all this part of the North Missouri. Mr. Nave, was the father of Mrs. Henry Hutchison, who was born in Spring Hill, and of George Nave. For many years this little spot in the wilderness was called Nave town.
Soon, however, other settlers began to come in make a rapid settlement of this part. After Nave, about the first to arrive was Levi F. Goben, who had first settled on Grand River, north of what is now Mooresville, he came to Nave Town in "the year the stars fell", 1833.
This section around Nave Town, in what is now know as Jackson and Sampsel Townships, was indeed "the forest primeval" - "the trackless woods". It was a veritable hunter's paradise. Game of all kinds abounded: elk, deer, wild turkey, pheasants and prairie chickens; and fur bearing animals such as; squirrels, bears, 'coons, opossums, foxes and wolves. Even in my time, I have heard the call of the panther in the woods and seen the deer running in the streets of Spring Hill.
There was very little money to be had and most of the trading and bartering was done with furs, hides, pelts and bees wax. For at this time the woods were full of bee trees laden with honey. Indeed, honey was even found in the grass on the prairie.
John Stewart, who had been traveling up the Grand and Missouri rivers buying furs for the American Fur Company, on his return from one of his western trips, came through Spring Hill and thinking it would make a good trading point, went back to St. Louis, bought a stock of merchandise, moved it up and established a store, a packing house and a hotel. He was the first merchant to pay cash for a country produce or furs, or to let the natives have salt without cash. Before that, they could not buy salt without putting down the cash.
Flat boats were used to transport the products of the country to St. Louis and bring back merchandise in return. The boat landing was located about a mile and half south of the Graham Mill Bridge.
Up to the year 1840, this little village bore the name of Nave Town. It was on the trail leading from the first settlement of lowers Grand River to the first settlement of Grand River on the north. Spring Hill was the name later given to the village, after it was platted. The land where Spring Hill is located was surveyed by the United States Surveyor, J. W. Robinson, August 1834. The tradition is, that Mr. Robinson died when he reached the point where Spring Hill is, and that his aids, or assistants, undertook to complete the survey in November, and got as far as the Daviess County line, but that the records were lost. From that time, until about 1876, what is now Sampsel township was called "the lost township". When this survey was made in 1834, there was a ferry where the Grand River Bridge now stands, run by a man named Breeze.
In 1837 occurred the first election of the county. It was called to be held at Jesse Nave's place to elect two Justices of the Peace for Indian Creek Township, which at that time comprised all of what is now know as Jackson and Sampsel Townships.
The village was hedged in with an almost impenetrable forest, principally white oaks, massive and grand. The path ways - there really were no roads - penetrating this wilderness, resembled tunnels more than anything I can recall, and the inhabitants of the surrounding country would appear and disappear as if, from and to, some unknown world of mystery.
I think it is safe to say that the great majority of the inhabitants were superstitious, believing in ghosts, witches and apparitions, and the "little people" the fairies. Several of the large store rooms of mercantile housed were said to be haunted.
I recall that when a child, one telling of seeing apparitions and balls of fire flying up and down the hollows on each side of the town. It was told of Dr. George Williams, a physician, and resident, that on many occasions while returning from nightly visits, a ghost would jump up and ride home with him on his horse. Some of the town women told of seeing "things" while attending the sick bed. I recall my father telling of meeting Bob Bray one evening just after dusk. He had just met a man with no head, wheeling off John Simpson's wheelbarrow. Another story was that Willis Griffin, who was clerking for John Dolfs and sleeping in the store room, was awakened by a noise and on getting up, found a spook behind the counter measuring off the goods and when he spoke to it, it disappeared through the wall. Many, many such other stories were told. Of course, they all had a tendency to keep the children frightened so they stayed in at night.
Naturally among the first inhabitants there were some droll characters. It is reported that when Oliver Morris landed at the little village of Chillicothe on his way to what is known as the "poosey" country to see his brother Ashford, he got passage part of the way with Old Uncle Sam Thompson, who happened to be there with his ox team and the running gears of his wagon. They were late in starting homeward and traveling through the dense forest with not even the moon for a light, Morris complained bitterly of the roads and the darkness and the loneliness of the journey. Thompson told him that this was a new country and that he couldn't expect too much. That they were out of a moon just now, that they had brought one little moon out from Kentucky and as it didn't do much good, they sent it back and ordered a larger one. Sam is reported to be Thompson who had the colt that was such a fool that it swam the river twice to get a drink. He was a blacksmith and going to his dinner one day all covered with soot and grime he found that his second wife's sister was there on a visit. After he was properly introduced to her she gave him a searching look, and he said, "Madam, I suppose you think your sister played H-l when she married me, but I can tell you, it was the best she could do in this country". Another story told on old Uncle Sam was that while constable, he was given orders to levy on the goods and chattels of a debtor. One item was a yearling calf which Sam found in a lot grown up with jimsom weeds. Thinking he had to lay his hands on the property, he chased the calf all around the lot and finally succeeded in getting hold of it by the tail. The calf bawled, and Sam said, "Bawl and be damned, I'll do my duty".
Dr. Williams, in prescribing for Amos Walker directed the medicine be taken in a little pumpkin (meaning stewed pumpkin). On his return he inquired the effect the medicine had had, Amos said they could not find a pumpkin small enough for him to swallow.
A Mr. Brummitt had a habit of making his reply to any question asked him rhyme with the question. So he was dubbed a poet. On one occasion, Sam Harris said to him, "Mr. Brummitt, not everyone can be a poet." Instantly came the reply, "No more than a sheep can be a go-at".
One of the customs for the entertainment of the settlers was to have a shooting match. A beef was slaughtered and the best marksman would carry away a quarter of the beef. It was soon found that Israel Prewitt had to be limited and finally barred from the shoot as it became his habit to walk away with the whole beef or as we would now say, "take home the bacon".
About the date of the breaking out of the Civil War, the boys in Spring Hill observed Christmas by knocking the heads out of a tar barrel - all the merchants kept tar by the barrel - running a pole through the barrel, then, having set it on fire, a boy grabbed each end of the pole and ran up and down the streets with the blazing tar barrel, make a light equal to our electric lights. Other boys would take balls of candle wicking, soak them in turpentine, set them afire and toss them from one to the other as the boys do foot balls now. Those were the good old days!
About the year 1860, the village extended from the northern boundary, as now located, to the brook. On the south side of the brook, at the lower end of the village at the foot of the hill, John A. Sidner was running a mill, sawing lumber and grinding grain. Across the creek from the mill on the flat, James Nave had a "rope works". Just west of that on the brook coming in from the west, John Simpson was operating a tan yard. Coming up from the mill, the first house you came to was the one known as the Doss House, where Enoch Akin and Joseph Akin lived and manufactured wagons. One Washington lived in the adjoining house, and across the street was 'old man' Puckett; north of him was Robert Stewart, the stone mason. On the east side a Mr. Doles, then came John Stewart with his hotel and store and slaughtering house. Paris Pepper lived just opposite him. North of him was Kykendoll's store in what was known as Hicks House, the house owned by old Jimmy Hicks in which there was three separate store rooms. Just across the street was Maurice Shaw, the merchant tailor, and old Irish bachelor. North of him Dick Fenton was Jessie Offield's residence and blacksmith shop. Just across the street from him was Dr. George Williams' residence. North of that was Levi F. Goben's hotel and on the rear street Goben was running a carding machine. Across the street from the hotel, A.B.D. Martin had a general store and on the street west he kept a slaughter house, now called a packing house, afterwards a tobacco factory. Adjoining Martin's store on the north James Brown, father of Mrs. George Pinkley, lived and had a blacksmith shop. Just north of Bill Bevel Bevel had a blacksmith shop and a Mr. Duncan manufactured wagons. Just north Henry Rudolph made saddles and harness. North of him John T. Green ran a general store. On further north Dr. S. J. Dewey ran drug store and Dr. Olin Williams (young Doc.) had his office and practiced medicine. James A. Moseley a former merchant and William F. Miller lived between Green's store and the Moss residence; Miller was a lawyer and teacher; Robert B. Moss was a farmer and Justice of the Peace; George Wingo kept a blacksmith shop. John D. Vincil was the Methodist minister and a man named Culbertson owned and occupied the lot just north of the parsonage. Samuel Baxter had his shoe shop just north of him. That old building still stands. Across the street John K. Clark, who afterwards became a physician, ran a blacksmith shop. Just north of him Charles Wilburn kept a carding machine. Across the street from Wilburn, a man by the name of Artimintus Dumbleton lived. John A. Porterfield lived on a farm that is now owned by Mr. Griffith.
Among the settlers who were in Spring Hill and vicinity in 1860 were the following; Joseph Hoskins, old Uncle Davie Girdner, David Girdner, Don Kirk, Jo Kirk, Mathew McGaugh, William Avery, Leo Tiberghien, Benjamin Hargrave, John Hargrave, Lemuel Hargrave, James McCallister and little fellow named Wright, that we always called "McCallister's son-in-law", George Hartwell, Tom Trammell, Hugh Stockwell, Amos Walker, Adam Gann, John Frazier, John Cooper, and Old Cornelius, who was a walking skeleton, Luther Lowe, Brannick Curtiss who "sealed the walls of Taos", John Boucher, A. J. Boucher, Andy Winkler, William G. Frith, James Turner, a good old Baptist preacher, John Pepper, James Pepper, Samuel Pepper, and old Uncle Sam Thompson, James Harve Kirk, Moses Cole from York State, Silas Sneed, Joshua Ty, John Cox, A. B. Liggett, William F. Peery, father of John H., deceased, Jeff Ty, Andy Sportsman, Chris Kessler, John Kessler, Dan Kessler, John Hobbs, old uncle Jess Stevens, James Straley, who walked to town every day from Indian Creek and filled up on "tangle foot", H. K. Pearl, Joshua Crumpacker, George W. Martin, Andrew Liggitt, Shelby Liggett, Gus Snidow, George W. Mastries, William Faulk, Uncle Jimmy Blackburn, John Blackburn, Thomas Hutchinson, William Marlow, J. B. Francis, Squire Gee, Pressly Boone, Elisha Emery, Alex Dockery, George and Bob Dockery, Robert Lauderdale, Samuel Dennis, Marion M. Hughes, John Broegle, and Felt Broegle, James Rossin and Charley Rossin, Thomas Hoy, John Gillaspie, Gillis Gillaspie, William Allen, Jack Allen, Chares Girdner, Jacob Reeter, Alexander Frisby, John Caddell, Lewis M. Clark, Trevis Sterling, William Hale, David Gibbs, John McWilliams, Temple Smith, Tappley Mathews, Mart Mathis, William Shoemate, William Gibbons, John Vaughn, John Alnutt, Robert Alnutt, John F. Dryden, Gus Dryden, Leander Dryden, Nat Dryden, Thomas Boyle, Reuben Wilburn, James Hicks, Marian Hicks, Newton Hicks, Rufus Lay, William Todd, William Pullian, W. S. Davis, who kept a horse mill, Wiley Clark, William Hicklin, who kept a horse mill, Thomas Cravens, Henry Coy, W. S. Davis, (Sugar Billy), Tom Peery and Cling Ware, Steven Mathews, (the shoemaker), J. M. Hosman, John A. Poe, John Freels, Ralph Marlin, John Sharp, John A. Davidson, William Hutchison, Jerry H. Hutchison, Barney Herson, John Newcome, William Webster, Willis Webster, William H. Varney, George Hoskins, Robert L. Duckworth, John S. Venable, Jack Runeley, James Brassfield, ___ Brassfield, Robert Brassfield, Elliott Ware, Oliver Morris, Ashford Morris, James H. Williams, Matt Girdner, John Offield, Granville Brassfield, Dan Williams, James H. Williams, James Nave, James Nave Jr., Ben Nave, John Street, W. C. Sterling, James N. Gibbs, William Snyder, Milton Snidow, James Snidow, Robert Clark, Henry Turner, Black Martin, John T. Moss, Frank Moss, Marshall Moss, Alex Mann, Henry D. Leeper, James Leeper, Jonathan Eads, Tom Callahan, Williamson Crews, James Crews, Thomas Crews, George Crews, John Styles, John Taylor, Wes Taylor, John Lilly, Perry Lilly, Joseph Lilly, Joseph Ross, Samuel Anderson, James Anderson, Washington Anderson, Monroe Ware, Dempsy White, David Hawkins, Sam Hawkins, Milt Lilly, Rankin Blackburn, Porter Ramsey, William Levi, Henry Lewis, Thomas Perry, John H. Perry, Clinton Ware, White Dockey, Asford Dockey, Merrill Dockey, Valentine Broegle, John Hutchison, William Hutchison, Jerd Hutchison, Bill Vanderpool, John Blackburn, Robert Venable, John S. Venable, Warren Pond, James Pond, William Pond, James Caddell, John P. Caddell, Frank Gibbs, Frank Kincaid, Newton Kincaid, George Kincaid, John Long, William Allen, Jack Allen, Jo Allen, Jim Allen, Riley Brassfield, James Brassfield, Bob Brassfield, Marion Hughes, Andy Hughes, Bill Hughes, Jonathan Smith, William Smith, Thomas Cravens, Jerry Cravens, Mr. Speck, Greenberry Harris, Cal Bells, William and George Hobbs, Nova Davis, Gale Davis, Juthro Davis, James L. Davis, Thomas Campbell, David Curtis, Dick Curtis, Bambridge Curtis, Thomas Curtis, Joseph Crews, Henry Coy, George Arbuckle, Dick Arbuckle and William Gee.
As I glance over these names, "old faces look upon me, old forms go trooping past" and like the poet, Moore
"I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted
Whose lights are fled
Whose garlands dead
And all but "me" departed!"
Will the old town arise Phoenix-like from its ashes?
I hope that it will emerge and become a thriving city.
by Douglass Stewart