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Past and Present of Livingston County
Volume 1. History
by Major A. J. Roof. 1913
The late Col. W. F. Switzler, a former resident of Chillicothe and editor of the Daily Constitution, contributes some reminiscences of the early settlers of Missouri, many of them in a humorous vein:
Cole's Fort was one of several stockade forts established in central Missouri in 1812 for the protection of the early settlers. Hannah Cole, a widow, with nine children, aided by her several grown sons, established the fort on the Missouri river bluff about a mile below the present city of Boonville, Cooper county, and on the south side of the river. This fort in 1816, the year before Boonville was established and a short time after Howard county was organized, was the capital of that county and David Barton, July 8, 1816, held the first circuit court there was ever held in central Missouri. In 1820 Barton was elected one of the United States Senators from Missouri.. Thomas H. Benton was the other.
After the close of the War of 1812, Gilliard Rupe built a cabin at the mouth of Rupe's branch in Boonville. Bartlett's tavern soon became the center of dancing frolics and other social functions, which were largely attended by the young people, as well as by many of the older, of the region round about. Fashion, as we understand it, was unknown, and therefore both lads and lassies "tripped the light fantastic," to the inartistic but soul-stirring music of the fiddle, in the heavy shoes made by a neighborhood cobbler and in the rustic gowns and homespun and homemade coats and trousers of the settlers' cabins.
Sam Cole, the youngest son of the widow of the Fort, resolved one summer's afternoon to attend a dance at 'Bartlett's tavern. Not having been invited "cut no ice" with Sam, for in that respect he was on an equal footing with all the young men of the neighborhood. He, however, had neither coat nor trousers, his wardrobe consisting only of a tow-linen shirt which extended to his heels. His mother protested he must not appear at the dance in this garb, but Sam determined otherwise, He had a fat, sleek young bull perfectly tractable, which he rode everywhere instead of a saddle horse. Mounting the bull, he rode up the river to Bartlett's, dismounted, and hitched "Ball" to a tree on the river bank.
Those about the tavern gave Sam a cold reception. They guyed and made fun of him fearfully. Very soon he quailed before the storm of jibes and threats of ducking in the river, beat a hasty retreat to his bull, and mounting drove him into the river. Obeying the command to swim down stream, Ball, the bull, "struck out" for home, Sam slipping from his back into the water and holding to his tail in safety until his return to the Fort.
Sam Cole died in Cooper county soon after the close of the Civil war.
Previous to the Revolutionary war, two brothers, Peter and Isaac Vanbibber, emigrated from Holland to America, and settled in Botetourt county, Virginia. James, one of the sons of Peter, came to Missouri in 1800 and settled in St. Charles county; afterwards in Callaway county. Isaac Vanbibber, Sr., brother of Peter, was killed in the battle of Point Pleasant, Virginia, in 1774, leaving a widow and four children, among the latter Isaac, then only about three years of age. He was adopted and reared by Daniel Boone and in 1800 came to Missouri with Nathan Boone and settled in Darst's Bottom, St. Charles county. Afterwards marrying, he settled at Loutre Lick, on Loutre creek, Montgomery county, where he built a large two-story frame house, as a tavern. It was situated on the main road from St. Charles to the Boone's Lick country and was the stopping place of
travelers and emigrants. The tavern was extensively patronized and Vanbibber realized a large amount of money out of it.
Isaac Vanbibber was very eccentric and became a very noted citizen. He omitted no opportunity to declare and enforce his belief that every six thousand years there was a recurrence of the same events in the world's history and of course in the history of all of its inhabitants. He was active and persistent in the defense of this peculiar philosophy. Neither the process by which he reached this strange conclusion nor the reasons he gave to defend it, have descended to this generation. He died in 1836.
A few years before his death, three young Kentuckians rode up on horseback to his tavern and stopped for the night. After supper Vanbibber, as was his custom, boldly declared his six thousand years recurring philosophy and defended it as best he could against the objections, ridicule and quibbles of the disbelieving Kentuckians.
Next morning, when preparing to leave on their journey westward, the Kentuckians concluded to play a practical joke on Vanbibber and to subject his professed faith in his philosophy to a business test. They said: "Now, Mr. Vanbibber, you believe we will all be here again, just as we are now, six thousand years hence; to test your belief in this doctrine we propose to give you our joint note for the amount of our bills, at 10 per cent interest, payable six thousand years after date." For a moment Vanbibber was in an embarrassing dilemma. Recovering from it, however, he replied: "You are smart young fellows all the way from old Kaintuck, and I would at once accept your note and let you keep on, but I remember all three of you were here six thousand years ago and left without paying your bills and now I am afraid to trust you. So you will have to 'shell out.' " And "shell out" they did.
Chauncey M. Depew in his speech at the 119th annual banquet of the New York Chamber of Commerce, at Delmonico's, November 15, 1887, referred to a student society in his college days organized to promote extemporaneous and sententious oratory; and to the fact that on one occasion the professor of rhetoric, who presided, called for him and said, "Sir, your time is three minutes; your subject, 'The Immortality of the Soul.'" I was present at the banquet and heard the speech.
During the old settlers' days in Central Missouri, and in Howard county, the writer was a member of a society, which met at the schoolhouse, to stimulate a love for poetry and to cultivate a talent for producing it extemporaneously. Each member on being called for was expected to pronounce at least a couplet of his own, composition or selection or pay a fine. J. H. H. had no taste for poetry, original or selected, and was never known to be inspired by "the divine afflatus" to the extent of attempting its composition. Evidently he expected to use a certain couplet; but in the crisis of the call by the president he got the lines mixed and misfitted, and much to the amusement of the entire club and his own discomfiture gave out this laughable specimen of pioneer prose on stilts
"She slips and she slides along;
A faithful friend is hard to find."
The paroxysm of laughter into which the club was thrown threatened it with disrupture and drove "the poet laureate" incontinently from the house, never to return.
During pioneer days in Missouri, there occurred a serious scrimmage over a flock of geese in which both sexes engaged between the families of Robert Pickett and Smiley Lewis, who were near neighbors.
In the spring of the year the geese of the families ran at will in the bottom lands of a neighboring creek, and when feather picking time came it was the practice of the settlers to send to the creek bottoms for their flocks and drive them home. Of course the flocks often became so mixed that trouble sometimes arose in determining property rights in the premises. Thus it developed in respect to the geese of the Pickett and Lewis families.
One bright spring morning Mrs. Pickett sent Margaret Ann, the colored servant woman, to the creek bottom to "round up" her geese for picking. "Marg" was not quite as careful as she might have been or in every instance didn't know the Pickett from the Lewis geese. At all events Mrs. Lewis claimed that "Marg" had driven from the bottom some of her geese, and demanded that they be surrendered then and there. Mrs. Pickett refused to give them up and a lively tongue-lashing between the parties ensued. Finally Mrs. Lewis declared she would have her geese or she would "whip the whole shooting match." Then she returned home, but soon came back with her husband and again demanded her geese. Mrs. Pickett again refused, and Marg seconded the motion. Harsh and angry words, in fact a fierce quarrel, followed. Mr. Pickett happened to be in the house, and hearing the quarrel came out and ordered the whole Lewis gang off the place. But Mr. Lewis swore in big round early settlers' phrase he would not go till his wife got her geese, whereupon Pickett rushed upon him with a piece of plank, knocking him down. Then Charles, a young son of Lewis, whizzed a rock at Pickett and made him bite the dust. Seeing this, the colored woman, Margaret, came to the rescue with an axe and flew at Charles, who at once took to his heels, jumped the fence and ran through the woods to the house of Reason Richards. He seemed almost scared to death and reported that "Bob Pickett had killed pap and I have killed Pickett, and I expect several more are dead by this time as I left them fighting."
Tom Richards, a son of Reason, hastened to the reported scene of slaughter and found nobody killed or even seriously wounded. Pickett was sitting in a chair in the house and his wife was bathing his forehead with camphor, the Lewises had left for home, and Margaret Ann was in the stable lot feeding the geese with shelled corn.
In pioneer times in "the wild and woolly west" the early settlers tanned their own leather and a shoemaker of the neighborhood manufactured all the footwear that was used. Store shoes were unknown and in many places even stores themselves.
"Uncle David Finley," as everybody in his part of Missouri called him, became indebted to the neighborhood shoemaker for making shoes for his family and the debt was to be discharged at hog killing time by a dressed hog. The killing occurred and "Uncle Davy" was anxious to pay the debt. But he had no wagon or sled and the shoemaker lived about three or four miles away. How to get the hog to him therefore was a perplexing question.
It soon occurred to him, however, that he had a pair of gentle work steers, and he determined to fasten the hog on the back of one of them and lead him to the shoemaker's. This he did, with ropes, and "Buck" seeming to be all right the prospect was good to accomplish the journey.
"Uncle Davy" with one end of the lead rope in his hand, led the way and the steer with the dressed hog on his back followed. Unfortunately, however, after a few steps, "Buck" turned his eye to his side, took in the situation, became thoroughly frightened, sprang into the air with a loud snort, broke away from his master and went through the adjacent woods jumping, bellowing and kicking with might and main.
Very soon the hog got under his belly and the situation became more frightful and "Buck" seemed beside himself. Finally he ran back into the yard from which he started, when "Aunt Abby" came out of the house and tried to pacify him by a kindly "suke, suke." But this did no good, and when last reliably heard from the bay steer with the dressed hog under his belly was running and rearing and bawling as if old nick was after him horns and hounds.
Be this as it may the people in that neighborhood, although now of a new generation, have been laughing for more than fifty years over the incident here recited.