JEFFERSON COUNTY MO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Student INTERVIEWS of LONG TIME RESIDENTS - 1975
Transcribed by Blaine Olson
The following interview was from an assignment given to students at JEFFERSON COUNTY JUNIOR COLLEGE in Hillsboro, MO. They were to select a longtime resident of the county and ask them a prepared list of questions about their recollections of their family's experiences in the county.
(comments) by Blaine Olson
Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Bruff of 814 Blow Street, De Soto, Missouri
Ken This is Ken Dow, I'm about to interview Mr. & Mrs. Dale Bruff of 814 Blow Street, my neighbors, and they're going to give me a little run-down on the history of Jefferson County as they remember.
Mr. & Mrs. Dale Bruff.
Ken Mr. Bruff how long have you all been a resident of Jefferson County?
Mr. B Well, I've been married 41 years June 20th. And the way I understand it, you want to know about some of the older people in this town, so I came upon a few of the older families. Now, these are colored people which I’ve known for years and years. That's the Simpson’s family, which lives on the east side; the Carter family, the Kelly’s and the Blanks. Now, Mrs. Carter, she worked for the post office for years and years, so did Albert Blank. And we have a population of colored, in excess of over five hundred families. And some of the best people in the United States, I'd dare say. Now on the other hand we have Stella Graham, who runs the Arlington Hotel. She, and her husband before her, ran it, I'd say approximately 65 years. Located in Old Town De Soto, Missouri, migrated here over one-hundred and fifty years ago. Thomas Fletcher, the Governor of Missouri. He had a street that was named Fletcher after him. Another old family is the (Roscoe) Burgess family who worked as the head of the Bank of De Soto, and his wife was a cashier. He's deceased, but his wife and son still survive.
Joachim Creek is another place of interest here in De Soto. I myself personally have seen the waters six feet deep on East Main Street. And I lived on the east side of Main Street at that time. Another place people come here later and don't know anything about, is the tunnel across from Hopson Lumber Company; you used to go underneath the tracks across from their business to the east side. A lot of the newer generation don't know about this. The Main Street in De Soto was Hwy. #2l for years and years until they built a new #2l. And De Soto Shoe Company International was here over fifty years.
Now, here are some old families. The Goodnight families, which owned the theater, the only one in existence in De Soto for years and years, operated by, solely by the Goodnight family. Another old family is Hamel Hardware. (Ward Hamel, owner) It is now known as Hamel and Rowe. Lindell Rowe married the daughter of the deceased Ward Hamel.
Now, the Haverstick family which I am married, comes from a long line of carpenters. Three brothers, Frank, Bill and Charlie, built practically all the houses on the east side of Main Street and several on the top of the hill on the other side. The Haversticks lived here over 75 years.
There are several caves throughout Jefferson County. And old Indian writing and drawings on Big River up the creek, up the river from it. High on the bluffs where the only way you could get access would be by a rope and let yourself down.
De Soto had a very good doctor, one of the best in the country, Dr. Karl McKinstry, devoted his lifetime to serving this community of De Soto.
The Manning Saw Mill that is out on NH highway has been handed down from father to son for over fifty years.
Just south of Hopson Lumber Company and across Tanyard Branch was a Hospital years ago. (This hospital was named Olivia Hobby House Hospital. It cared for people suffering from Tuberculosis)
I think that will fill you in quite a bit on the history of De Soto and the people who reside here.
Ken You said that you came from, Campbell or Kennett, Missouri
Mr. D I moved to St. Louis from Kennett.
Ken Then you lived in St. Louis. What year did you move down here to Jefferson County?
Mr. D 1944.
Ken Well, what kind of transportation, how did you get here?
Mr. D I came down in an automobile.
Ken An automobile? How was the highway system then compared now. What kind of changes?
Mr. D I’d say it’s 100% better now, because tires are so much better and the roads so improved. ln 1944, Main Street, (like I said before), was 2l Highway and the traffic congestion, is more of course. When I first came to De Soto, the Main Street was a dirt street, with hitching racks and water troughs and plenty of water. De Soto was noted for springs. De Soto's got over five hundred springs located around the city itself. Many have been sealed off. One spring used to be called the Watering Hole. It was located at Second Street and Pratt Street. (There was a hitching post and wooden trough there so farmers could give their horses a drink. They would bring wooden barrels and fill them with the good cold water, to take back home. Old timers have used that for many, many years. When the cars appeared, and they no longer used horses and wagon to come to town, they removed the trough and hitching post, and closed the spring. Since it was a artesian spring, it seeped water for several years.)
Ken How important did the coming of railroad trains affect De Soto?
Mr. D We had excellent train service. We had 6 passenger trains each day. 3 going South and 3 going North. We even had an early morning going to St. Louis called the Milk Train. It received that name, because it stopped every little place along to pick up the many farmers cans of milk to take to St. Louis. There were 75 to 100 stops in that distance. This meant that passengers who rode that train, had a slow ride. The train stopped every so often---it was about a 2 hour ride from De Soto. It was so slow, they allowed passengers to ride for free. It would take almost 4 hours to come from Blackwell to St. Louis. It was a lot better service than we have today. We no longer have passenger trains stopping here or freight trains. Everything comes by truck now.
Mr. D The chief interest for work in De Soto was the Missouri Pacific Railroad Shops and the International Shoe Factory. (The shops were located in the North end of town, and the shoe factory in the South. Both were built right along the Joachim Creek so they could have plenty of water for the manufacturing process) If it wasn’t for the many men who work in St. Louis at Chrysler, Ford Motor Company and McDonald-Douglas Aircraft, the town couldn’t survive. Two-thirds of the people are employed by the shops and shoe factory.
Ken You say that when you first moved here that those were the main places of employment? This was about 1930. Did you work at either of these places?
Mr. D No. I tended bar for the South End Tavern, 600 South Main St. It was owned and operated by Edna Schrum for about a year. I also tended bar for Harry Dapron, a Greek fellow who had a tavern in the North end of town, for 21 years. That takes care of about 26 years of my life. Now I work for National Venders at Barnhart, MO. I’m a punch-press operator. I’ve been there for 5 years.
You asked about social life between now and then. I guess most everybody danced. We teenagers had a place out on the #110 highway called K-slickers where we could dance and sing a lot. When we got old enough, that was where we spent a lot of time. I guess we would spend our time much like teenagers do today. Then in a couple years they closed the place up. There was another place further out on #110 called White City. We also had a roller skating rink down at the Arlington Hotel. It apparently didn’t live up to expectations and it didn’t last long. Then old man Collins, which owned the theater in the latter years, he figured pity the teenagers. He seen fit to use his politics power to have it closed up. And we had teen-towns at various places and the older boys and girls tore that up to where the teenagers had no place to go except to the show or go to church.
Ken Well as you look back, do you think that the teenagers now-days and the teenagers then, is there any difference, or could you say they're about the same?
Mr. D You know, I'd say the teenagers are now-days as they were then, except their parents have automobiles. They can take children places. If you owned an automobile, they figured you were pretty well-off if you owned a car. Now-days, why, everybody practically owns an automobile, or a truck and they take their children where they want to go. There is strictly no place in De Soto for teenagers to go to, that's why you have so much drinking among teenagers, because they get old people to buy it for them. Then they get drunk and get out on the highways. That's what causes a lot of wrecks.
Ken What was it like, you know, when you moved to De Soto? And when you first met your wife, what was a cheap mode of transportation then.?
Mr. D I mean, you know, you go and pick her up in Chevrolets and Fords, mostly. There wasn't too many horses and stuff around here at that time. There were quite a few horses. There were still quite a few horse-drawn carriages. See, I went with my wife five years before I married her, and I’ve been married be going on forty-two years in June.
KEN Oh, I see.
Mr. D You take from Second Street, that's in the north end of town, all the way out towards where 21 Highway is now, there was nothing but farms. There was a few scattered farm-houses and corn fields, where now is all residential district. There'd only be two or three farms, or four, maybe five, and some of those old families still own the ground which these houses are built on. But, the town hasn't changed too much, outside of, it's grown a lot more in which is shown on the records.
I’d say forty-five years ago I could call everybody by their names and tell you where they lived. Today, the only ones I know where they live is people which I, I know intimately. But, years ago if you asked me I could tell you if you was a stranger, where so and so lived, and tell you how to get there, because there wasn't that many people around.
Ken Mrs. Bruff, did you go to school here in this school system?
Mrs. D Yes, I went to South Ward School.
Ken South Ward School. Where was this located?
Mrs. D It was an old apartment building up there now, they use it for apartments.
Mrs. D Oh yes. Fourth & Joachim. Then I went to Central School, too.
Ken How was, about the school system then I mean, what was it, a one-room school or a big school?
Mrs. It was a big school. Just like they have now.
Ken Oh, I see. We were wondering about the educational, you know, the educational difference,
Mrs. D We used to have a central school and a high school up here and they built them a new one. I tell you when they built this Jefferson College out here that made it possible for a lot of people which don't have the money to go to a bigger college. To go out and learn such trades as necessary to get along in this world, which I have some friends of mine which go to that college. Some which have moved on, and some which are still in there.
Mrs. D And your high school system of De Soto today is far more advanced, better teachers. Oh course, they have a bigger enrollment, but there's more money to be provided through the tax payers then there was that time, cause populations greater. But that Jefferson College, use to be if you had a child and wanted to send her to college, you sent her to Cape Girardeau. Down to Cape College. Which I know quite a few, one I mentioned while ago, Donald Burgess. His son, Dean while they were well to do people of the town and they sent their son there and he graduated high honors. They put about thirty-seven years in Panama working for the government down there, their government owns the railroad, and he worked the dispatcher for the railroad down there. And his mother Emma, she must be about ninety-five, she was one of the cashiers at the bank down here years ago. I was wondering about, you know, we was out there in our American History class, we were talking about the different ethnic groups that made up these totals, you know. Like, down in the Valleys, they were all famous and stuff like that, you know, Frenchmen.
Ken What type of town would you say the De Soto is chiefly made up of?
Mrs. D Well, years ago it was effectively German and French. Yes, I'd say chiefly French, you know, not full-blooded, because later marriages, marrying into Irish and German families. But, De Soto is strictly, I'd say two-thirds French, the early settlers.
Ken Are there any French right now around here that's prominent?
Mr. D There are quite a few, yes, scattered around. But, but all the old-timers are all died off. Just their brothers and sisters married in different nationalities and one of your chief churches down here is your Catholic church. It is open for any denomination, colored or white, or any breed, don't make any difference. And they do have an awful good priest there. In fact there are two of them. Then you have your Methodist and Baptist. And there is quite a few Pentecostal churches. I myself, I wasn't raised a Catholic, but my wife was. And I don't have any pure religion, whatever people belong to, that's strictly their business.
Ken Now. Let's talk over here on the east side, how is this? Was it, was it kind of a wilderness or just what was it when you moved out here?
Mrs. D I'd like to say in 1935, that De Soto on the east side railroad is called Old Town, first was settled originally by the settlers around one hundred and fifty years so, as far as we know longer than that. And at that time there might have been, possibly fifteen families are colored on the east side which today I'd say, estimated could be more, take a close check, there could be five hundred families. I'll say this, I lived over here among the colored and they were just as good friends if not better than a lot of the white which I associate with. And I'm just as safe up here with those people as I would be if I was in a all-white neighborhood. And, like I stated in that we have some of the best colored people located in De Soto in the Nation. Never no trouble, oh, minor things which you'll find anywhere, white or colored.
Ken The part you brought up there, I was wondering, you know, like I say I'm a new resident around here, but when you first moved here, I don't know, maybe, maybe we should get an idea of the black man's place in Jefferson County. Was there any problem with black people around here when you moved here?
Mrs. D No. They owned their own business and stuff like that. There was a blacksmith here in town, he owned his own business, but your old-timers like Joe Simpson and Kelly, he would put his lifetime in the shoe factory. Simpson, he worked for Hopson and different lumber companies and worked hard all of his life. He is in his late seventy's, I'd say about seventy-nine years old. And those are some of the people that I know and they've known me for years. And like I said, a stranger moves in on the east side I'll know him, if he's worth knowing. And if he's not worth knowing, I won't know him. And I have as many colored people which are friends of mine as I have whites. Tended bar for those years, now, so I worked for Harry down there. We used to have a place for the colored people to sit and drink as long as they wanted to drink and they behaved better than the whites. And later years we tore the room up and they could sit out there at the bar and drink just like everybody else. And there was no pressure ever put on anybody because he used to run a place over in Festus over there, called the Yellow Dog. And two-thirds of his business was colored. And I worked on (Chouteau) Avenue, up there, where two-thirds of my business was colored. And there's an awful lot of difference between the colored people here in De Soto and St. Louis. Cause it's not safe out on the streets at night up there. And here we only have maybe eight or nine policemen, well they’re supposed to be police. But my son, he was on the police-force for eleven years, and he can tell you that he had very little trouble with the colored. Most of his trouble was with teenagers of the whites.
Ken Well, during that time did you, well, you met your wife and stuff did you ever, go around into other places here in Jefferson County?
Mr. D Yes in early years, her and I, we use to go out to White City out there along with maybe eight or nine other couples. Go out there and we'd dance and have a few drinks and meet people of our own ages out there and have a good time. And possibly one or two o'clock on Saturday night, why, we'd come home. And I've lived in about five different places, and I own my own place here on Blow Street. But I have lived in various places in De Soto and out in the county. And I know pretty well much what goes on.
Ken You were telling me about this swing-bridge in De Soto. Do you happen to know what year it probably went up or what year it was taken down?
Mr.D It was taken down, oh, around nineteen and sixty, I think it was, sixty-one, right in there. But you'd be surprised that people lived on the east side, especially in that locality on the hill. There was an awful lot of traffic. People walking back & forth over it. It was a national landmark. It was built here before the 1900s. And I myself, I tried to get signers to keep it from being torn down, but they tore it down anyway. And there used to be a bridge in behind the shoe company, I mean, Mo Pac shops. People that lived on that hill, which they called HILL. ...Old man....He'd been there years and across that bridge. And rather than fix the bridge up they tore it down. And there was a foot-bridge across there, but not as sturdy as the one across Joachim, there by the shoe factory.
Ken Well, now these bridges, what size were they? Were they just walking bridges or could you carry traffic across them?
Mr. D Just walking bridges. The one across behind the shops, I would say is about four foot wide. And the one across behind De Soto shops, I mean, the shoe factory' I'd say was approximately six foot wide.
Ken Well, how did you get across on this side?
Mr. D We walked across the bridge, oh, there's an old bridge there- 'And years ago you use to cross the creek and get across.
Ken Oh' you know, I was wondering about, you know, the traffic and stuff like that.
Mr. D Down where the new bridge is now. You use to cross the creek there to get across from one side to the other.
Ken Oh, I see.
Mr. D And when the creek got up you stayed where you were at. At that time it wasn't very deep. Gypsies use to camp along.
Mr. D The Joachim Creek. When I was a child I can remember them camping there in a tent and they lived there all summer. Right where the trailer court is there- at Copeland’s Trailer court- That used to be a old home with a two-story house. And, there were people of prominence that owned quite a bit of ground. And their son, he just died recently. He had worked at Pittsburg Plate Glass where his dad had a lot of activities going on. He belonged to the Chamber of Commerce and various other organizations. I myself belonged to the Elks for twenty-five years. Down there across from Holmes hatchery there used to be, they called it the slaughter-house where they'd bring cattle and hogs to kill them.
Ken Who owns this, now?
Mr. D I don't remember. -------Oh, yes! It was owned by Fred Duffner. Father of them Duffner boys was in charge of that, he was the boss. But, if you had steers you wanted to get butchered, you'd hang them on a rack there and they would butcher them and charge you a certain amount for putting them in the freezers and storage. (They also later sold hunks of ice you could buy too but in the old type of ICE Box. That's truly what it was. You put a 25 lb. block in a lower drawer that had a drain pan to catch the melted water. Then they started making ice cream---that’s when they really got going in business.)
Ken I was wondering, I guess the railroad played a real prominent part.
Mr. D Yes it did. They say De Soto was a railroad town, really. But, if you worked in De Soto, you either worked for the shop or you worked the shoe company. Or else you worked for some of the merchants. There was no work, I'd say, that you had any money, and very few people at that time had money in De Soto. So, if you went to seek employment you went to St. Louis or one of these big plants. In them days, though, you could rent a house for eight dollars a month, and live good.
Ken How, big a house was that?
Mr. D Five, six rooms. Well, we rented a five room house here on Main Street -----our old house for twenty dollars a month. That was back there in the forty's. And utilities were cheap, electric never run over five or six dollars a month.
Ken Well, as far as De Soto, now, how is it different on account of, you know, population growth.
Mr. D Yes, it's getting larger all the time.
Ken Has it had any effect on you that you can say right now, you know, as far as your own personal life?
Mr. D The only thing that I say has an effect on me is the fact that I had to quit tending bar and go to work as far as to make a living. Because my wife worked at the Shoe Factory International and also De Soto Shoe Company, which is owned by Hamilton Shoe Company. And when she had to retire on account of arthritis, then I had to seek employment where I could make more money. After tending bar for twenty-six years in De Soto, I got a job where I make three times as much now. So even with the prices here and how things are today, we get along a lot better now, than we did when the both of us were working.
Ken I see:
Mr. D And there, you take an old-age person, that's say in their seventies and relying on old-age or social security, the way things are going up in De Soto, the prices of stuff it's not even humanly possible for those people to get by unless they have some kind of medical help or social help from the outside through children or relatives or neighbors cause they can't get by unless they had a nest-egg set aside.
Ken I see Mr. Bruff, you've mentioned something about Indian drawings around Old Mines.....
Mr. D Down at Frumet, MO. If you want to get access to it you have to take a boat. Up the Big River from the Frumet Bridge, I'd say within a mile, you watch the bluffs on your left. And later on, on your right, and you'll see drawings which you only way you can get to them would be by, somebody letting you down by a rope....thirty, forty & maybe even fifty feet down on a cliff. No way for you to get there. The Indians, they might have been sure footed enough to let themselves down there with a grape vine. Of course, in those days they didn't happen to know what a rope was. The Post Dispatch and the Globe-Democrat ran editorials on these drawings; and they came out and have taken pictures of those bluffs. And they call it picture petrographic drawings, which were made by the Indians. There are quite a few caves along the Big River out there which have been explored to a certain extent. But on account of snakes they don't go too far in there. The Floyd Breckinridge Farm, he has a cave that goes back about a mile underneath of his farm. They drilled down, the hole was there, but there's too many snakes hovering in there- so they don't go in there and try to explore it.
Ken Well, you've seen these drawings?
Mr. D Yeah, I've seen them. Go out squirrel hunting out there. Good squirrel woods on both sides. And when I was out hunting with Leo and Charlie Miller . We used to hunt that area out there, and day-light came on we'd leave' You could see those drawings high up on the bluffs. If you went either up or down the river you would see what we called the “shelves.” You would put your boat in at Mammoth (the one that rattles so much when you drive over it) the other one over there on the river. Yeah, up there where the cemetery is. Anyway it's four miles and half out of De Soto. You turn left, and you go to the bridge there and put your boat in there. And you go down the river. That way, why, you can have more time to see the sights.
Ken Does anybody know what tribe of Indians did these drawings?
Mr. D Now, I don’t have any knowledge of what their nationality was. They just call them, French Indians. That's what they call them. Now, the Post-Dispatch, like I said before, and Globe-Democrat, they were so much interested in it that they came out and the ran an editorial and they took pictures of that so that’s on record at both papers. And if your college wants to get some particulars on that, all they have to do is contact the co-editor of the Post or Globe you can get them pictures through correspondence. You can blow it up any size he wants. So far there they haven't been able to translate any of that- They say it “all Greek” to them, they don't know what it is. But they know who put it there.
Ken Oh, I see . But, then as far as them finding anything in the woods, they haven’t. So in other words, they probably don't know, did they ever try and guess on how old it was, or how long it's been there?
Mr. D They said it's been there for years and years, centuries. But I know the Johnson family out there and the Beckenridge family. Those are old families out there and they said years ago that Indians use to live down the river, up the river there from Frumet. The old timers, seventy to seventy-five years old and they heard their fathers told about it, and but, they call them French Indians. So the name of them, unless the Post and Globe found out, why I don't know what their names are. You see some fancy drawings. It means something in that language but it will probably be pretty interesting. You know, if you could find out, if you could find somebody that could translate it. If your teacher, or any teacher out there, wants to get further information on that, just get a hold of the historian at the Post or Globe.
Ken There's Indian markings out at Washington State Park, too, isn't there?
Mr. D Yes, up on them bluffs there on them rocks up in Washington State Park there's Indian signs. I've saw them. Well, I'll go you one better, I'll talk to Mr. Ellis, and maybe he'll have you take them down there.
Ken Would you take him down there and show him? It would have to be in the summer-time.
Mr. D I wouldn't want to be on that river now, water and cold as it is. Would you? Summer-time would be a nice stroll down through there. Now, I'll tell you, that river is not as deep as the people think it is, but in the summer time if you make a float trip, say from out here at (Frumet), the Big River bridge there, which would take approximately fourteen hours, fifteen hours, I'd say you'd be out of the boat more then you was in it. Pushing over the rapids.
Ken Well, how was Jefferson County during the second World War? You know how did people react, you know, when they found out the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?
Mr. D Most of 'em closed up shop and had their employees all get a day off. Oh I know, they closed up the saloons. And give the people the rest of the day off. And a lot of the grocery stores closed and practically Main Street was dead after that. More so in the morning then there was anything else. And there's quite a few boys from De Soto that was in that war. My son, he put in three years in the Korean conflict, for nothing. They started on the 30’ parallel line, and wound up on the 3O' parallel line. Didn't gain nothing, but a lot of lives lost. And practically the same thing they conquered turn around there and two-thirds of the merchandise they make over there is sold in the United States. The workers and so forth are out of jobs, course it is cheaper there. Like Pittsburg Plate Glass, they get steel and stuff shipped in here, and glass from over in Belgium, which is a Communist country. It’s shipped in here cheaper than we can make it in this country. Union Electric, and all these big electric companies, they get their steel from Italy & it's second and third grade material, but they use it. Our steel mills are sitting idle, not idle, but run about half capacity on account of it. Oh, the same with your National Venders, they get all their steel from over there. Almost all their steel. And we'll come across rack after rack of steel laminated, where you can just take your thumb-nail and peel it. And these towers you see out through here, if you had a way to get up there and look on the side, you'll see Italian steel.
Ken These towers, what's this place called Rush Tower, what’s this supposed to be? I 've heard so many....
Mr. D That's Union Electric, Union Electric building is a big electric power plant there. I've been over there fishing at Rush Tower, and years ago mushroom hunting. It sits back in there in what they call the slough, which is the back water and it stays in there and mushrooms' are thick. And there's about one hundred and fifty acre corn field right across on the other side of Rush Tower. At that time Union Electric bought all that ground up and built that enormous plant there.
Ken During the time you moved here, I know probably you had chiefly farmers, right? Did you have more farms than you have now? What were the chief kind of crops around here in De Soto, I mean, in Jefferson Country? Corn ......Corn and hay? Is this considered bottom-land?
Mr. D It is. River bottom-land. You take the Breckinridge farm out there consists of about twenty-one hundred acres. That's three farms, united together and about, oh, two miles of river ground. He has one hundred and ten acres in his bottom there, and before they got this corn blight, he raised corn every year in that bottom. Since then, he raises hay. Because can’t get a good stand any more.
Ken Are they, were they profitable farmers?
Mr. D I'd say about fifteen or twenty farmers which made good money.
Ken Off the corn and hay?
Mr. D And raising stock, you know. Breckinridge is live stock now. Raises his own beef, two-thirds of his own. And he's still farming. His Dad did, and he took over the farm. Now he's got a son who's running the farm out there, along with his Dad. And you take the Delmar Valle’s; they have a big farm out there. The Johnson’s had a big farm too. All these different ones, like, too numerous to mention. And you got Johnny Thompson which is in the mining industry. He digs Tiff. He owns ground all over Jefferson County and part of Washington County. They live out there on #H highway. He must have a $15,000 home. He has an office in De Soto. In fact, he's got a couple offices. Those people, they made it. You take Fo-Jo Studio, (a large film developing business) They are known all over the world. Mr. Felix Milfeldt started out years ago, I'd say about sixty-five or 70 years ago, taking pictures, with a hooded camera on a tripod, and riding a bicycle. He would ride around on a bicycle. (They say he rode into town with only $10.00 in his pocket) He'd take pictures, then try to sell them to the person he snapped. Now, look at him, he's nation-wide. (They came up with the name FO-JO because Mr. Milfeldt used to draw tiny circles instead of periods when he signed his initials) But people, we like to get out in the woods. Frank Breckenridge and I, we tramped them woods and other friends of mine. We'd come across things that people wouldn’t believe unless they'd seen it. I can show you little graveyards taken back in the 1700’s out there where there's maybe thirty , forty graves, that, I’d say 99% of the people don’t even know where they are.
Ken Where's this at?
Mr. D They are out there behind...( ? ) Yes sir, you'd see little cemeteries all around. But anyway there are eight or nine graves in behind it. And there’s a lot of history of Jefferson county which had never been divulged, because a lot of these old-timers in their eighties and nineties just don’t talk. Especially the French aspects – Ninety year old Frenchmen, man or woman and they're set in their ways - you ask them something, and they don’t reply. Take care to their cemeteries. Especially behind the church out there at Old Mines. St. Joachim’s Catholic Church. You ask them a question and sometimes they answer and sometime they just don’t. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m well acquainted with old Mines. Potosi, and down through there. They form their opinion of you as soon as they see you. And if they think you’re no good----you’re no good until someone proves you otherwise. Right? I’d say 95% of the French people are of that nature. And me, I’ve got French in me. I’m that nature, the first time I see a person, I like them or I don't like them. And they're gonna have to do an awful lot to make me change my mind, if I decide I don't.
Ken You said like or dislike a person, what about the outlaws then? You know………
Mr. D You heard, probably heard, on the radio about the James boys down here. After the James boys robbing the banks years ago, stuff like that. Well, I’ve lived it. I know what it is, trains and all that….. . they had some mean characters here in De Soto, mean, theywere mean. That's what I call it.
Ken How about crime being as it is today? Maybe half dozen which you called mean people in De Soto?
Mr. D Some of them come out. I got to know three or four of them that spent thirty-five- to fifty years in the Penitentiary. You know them, you talk to them. They went up there, they served for their crime and they came back out, and they were respectable citizens. They were young, you couldn't tell them nothing. And the roughest place say in Jefferson County or any other part of Missouri was K-Slinkers. Out there where if you were a stranger, if you went in there you would be invited right back outside. If you didn’t go outside, you took a beating inside. You might get another beating when you got outside, because seemed like there were always four or five more waiting outside. You had to prove yourself. I can show you a guy whose got a scar down his cheek, all the way down to his lip, where they held him down and took a knife to him. Or take a broken beer bottle to your face. Those were a couple guys who worked at Pittsburg Plate Company in Festus. One of them just retired a few years back.
Ken Well, far as cuttings and stuff like that goes, have there been any lynchings, black people here, since you remember?
Mr. D No, there's never been a lynching in De Soto. Oh. Or anywhere in Jefferson County? The lynchings were south of here, around, oh, I’ve forgotten the name of the town now, they took this colored man and burned him between two logs that were brush out there in Main Street, found out then later that he didn’t commit the crime. He was supposed to have attacked a white girl, and she lied. He suffered his life for nothing.
Ken Well, Jefferson County, I guess it's probably always been kind of what you call a liberal town, didn't go along then. They didn't go out of their way to try to harm anybody.
Mr. D I'll tell you what they had years ago. They had your Klu Klux Klan.
Ken This was in Jefferson County?
Mr. D They are all dead now. But there's a few of the old-timers, seventy- five, eighty years old, still living. They don't talk of it, but I know of four or five of them that belonged to it. And a few were wife beaters. You would be called on until you don't let that happen again. If you did continue to, you were taken off and horse-whipped. And you didn't do it anymore. Cause the next warning, why, it be a little more.... fatal. And they operated back here, up until, I'd say 193O. They were pretty strong. Quite a few of your prominent merchants belonged to them, but they were never exposed: but it leaks out from time to time. And they kept the people in line. If you were a thief and they found out you was a thief, you was sent a notice to attend a meeting and they would just tell you right then, We'll get your job. The next time we catch you stealing you'll answer to us. And that was the law. Of course, the Mayor back then in those years, he was just as crooked as a snake. I knew him very personally. I won't mention his name, but it is said in the history here in De Soto that he stole everything he could get his hands on. That's why your old-timers wouldn't put money in the bank. Because the banks were always going broke. Somebody would take all the money and close the bank. Most of your old-timers buried their money. Her Dad lost his lifetime savings in the house when it burned up because he didn't believe in banks, because the banks were failing all the time.
Ken Was this going back, was this going back right around the depression?
Mr. D In the thirties. Well, he died in thirty-two, so about twenty- nine. Should be around twenty-nine, probably be depression then ......hanging in the pantry, and the house burned and he lost everything he had. And like I said, him and his two brothers (Haverstick) were three of the best carpenters that ever set foot in De Soto. Born and raised here. A lot of stories back in the depression time I know. I went to walk up to Kroger's Grocery Store and the shoe soles were off my feet and I put cardboard in there for soles and walked three miles down there and stood in that line hunting a job. In the winter-time, it be snowing or sleeting or raining you didn't get inside. They might hire one or two, then you'd take that walk back. Next morning you'd put some more cardboard in your shoes, like it or not now. Snow maybe in October and wouldn't leave the ground till spring. I've seen snow here the latter part of October. And be just one snow on top of the other and there'd still be snow on there up until the latter part of February.
Ken Well, how did, how did people make it, I mean, I know they had chains for their cars, but .
Mr. D Very few people had cars in those days. If you did, you'd get a Model-T Ford or an old Chevy or an old model Essex or an old car. And if you owned an automobile, you were pretty well to do. And another thing, back at that time people worked. They put in a garden. If they had a little piece of ground they put in a garden. And they raised tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes, and just a little bit of everything. And they canned things in quart mason jars; and they probably had a few chickens and got their own eggs. They had maybe a hog or two to butcher. That's the way they made it. Better than they do now. They raised what they ate. But they worked hard a lot, till dark. You can go out here to these old-time farmers in their seventy’s and grandkids and children of their own. They'll pick blackberries and can them. They can everything that they could find in quart jars. Then when winter-time comes, it was what they were used to. They eat out of the house and the storm-cellar and fruit-cellar, because they didn't have any money. And they still go by their old ways. I can show you, out of the old house, when his mother passed away, that she had can-goods that been canned for ten years. The whole basement full, old log house. The log house has been remodeled, but it’s still there. Just one mile out of Fletcher on the right-hand side, out there in the middle of a forty acre, fifty acre field. Everybody, if you didn't can your own, you didn't eat. You got to work all day long for a dollar, a dollar and a half. Well at that time you could keep your hogs and chickens right here in town. I was born and raised in Old Mines. My Dad always had his own chickens and eggs. He'd always had a few head of hogs and time he'd butcher them hogs. And that's the way we lived and he'd raise all of his own potatoes.
KEN Raised a bigger size family too, didn’t they?
Mr. D I think people enjoyed life better than they do now.
Ken When did they stop here in Desoto, or Jefferson County, where you couldn't raise chickens?
Mr. D When they could get to St. Louis and get jobs. We can live better and change. If you lived down here the only thing you had to rely upon was if you could pass the physical, or work at the shops or the shoe factory where you didn’t have to pass a physical. If you wanted to seek employment you had to go elsewhere, cause there was none here. We had two lumber companies. There were them two old lumber companies, the Hopson Brothers; they each had their own company. And Roberson down on north Main street before moving over to the east main street. Then years ago they opened up the spring factory here and that employed quite a few people, but they wanted far more ground than the people that owned it. Why they wanted three more times then what it was worth, so they just finally pulled up stakes and moved out. They stopped the raising of chickens and hogs and stuff like that, what, ten years ago?
The Paul’s Iron springs used to be located right straight down the hill. They had a 2” iron pipe sticking out of the hill. Just high enough to get a drink and for farmers who used to fill up their 20 gallon wooden barrels to take home to drink. (In the summer time the farmer's wells would dry up and they had to haul water to use.) It was wonderful cold water that just shot out of the end of the pipe. Then they had to stop it up, because this old colored man had a couple hogs and a hog-pen on top of the hill here. Right behind there but it got contaminated and it wasn’t fit to drink.
Ken They used it for drinking water, too.
Mr. D Yeah, that water used to run out of the hill all the time down there. About a pipe 2 inches around, it would be two-thirds full of water coming out of there. Why I can remember when there wasn't no pipe there and the water just run down on the rocks. If you wanted to get a drink, you'd hop up those steps and put your mouth down by the stones and drink that cold water. That spring still trickles down the hillside.
Ken Yes, I can see water seeping down the side of the hill I can see water coming out of somewhere. Many, many people got a drink out there. Did you know that there used to be several artesian wells, over where Vaughn Dairy’s place on 700 block of south main. Mr. A. Blackwell's Artesian Wells bottled the water and took it to St. Louis and the World Fair in 1907.
Ken Wasn’t the World’s Fair in 1904? They sold thousands of bottles at that time. Now they are all closed. There were another bunch of wells down about where De Gees Grocery is on North Main. Close by was an open hole where people used to keep their butter and milk cold.
The Interview was concluded at this time.