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.
Sylvester & Addie Scott
Ken Ken Dowe interviewer
( ) comments by Blaine Olson
Ken This is Ken Dowe talking to Mr.& Mrs. Sylvester Scott who lives at 707 East Stone St. DeSoto, MO. We’re going to talk about the History of Jefferson County. You were born in 1906, so that means you have had lots of different experiences in your long life. I am a student at Jefferson College at Hillsboro, MO. Our instructor has asked us to do a project. He wants us to find an older citizen and ask some questions about the changes that have taken place in Jefferson County during your life time…..
First Mr. Scott, have you lived in De Soto all your life, or did you come here later on?
Syl No, I lived here all my life.
Ken What I’m trying to do is establish some history of Jefferson County. We would like to find out, piece by piece beginning with your early childhood, how things have changed since you’ve grown up. I am interested in events and life style that you might share with us.
Syl Well, Kenny, when I came here I was only about 10 years old. I got a job at the Missouri Pacific Railroad Shops, working in the “scrap pile”. (This was sorting the used lumber from old box cars that were just scrapped.) There were, maybe 20 of us blacks employed at that time. This was when things began to turn around for blacks in De Soto. My uncles had been the only colored they had hired at that time. Oh yes, there was another colored, his name was Jack Taylor. He shoveled the coal into the engine; he had to fill the hopper. He lived on St. Louis Street. (There were quite a few black families living in that area. This was up close to where the High School Football field is now.) He fixed the “hot boxes” them days. (These were the boxes that held the grease at the axel for each wheel to lubricate them) .The old depot was at Boyd & Main street. It was built of wood, at that time. The office was in the upstairs, and the Y.M.C.A. (Booster Hall) was right below.
Syl Yes, it was the Y.M.C.A. They had boxing, bowling, wrestling, all in that building. Later they tore that building down, and moved the office over to the main building. In the main yards there was a round house This was a brick building that was quite large that held train engines, where they repaired and could turn engines completely around, to head both north & south. In another brick building they built boxcars and cabooses. This is where the colored done all the piling of lumber and the iron. They even repaired all those steam engines, them days.
Syl You know, we had a brickyard then. It was clear in the north end of town (about where Junior Harris used to fix wrecks and paint them) that was the brickyard. All the help was blacks. (This brickyard was quite a sizeable operation. Otto Herman owned it and made thousands and thousands of bricks there. He also oversaw the building of most of the two story brick buildings you see in De Soto still today. He had designed a special attractive way of placing the top row of bricks (near the roof) and was his trademark. You need to check this out sometime---you won’t see this design most anywhere else.) When you come on south Main Street to Boyd Street, look up west on Boyd and you will see Walther-Couch Mercantile. They sold groceries, and furnished just about all the grocery stores in town. (That’s where Roop Printing office is now) My sister’s husband Rob Matthes worked there. Back down the street, where Mothershead Funeral Home is, there was a mill. That’s where farmers would bring wheat and corn to be ground, to make flour and cornmeal. Back on the corner of Boyd & Main where the Shell Service Station is now; was a livery stable. It was owned & operated by J. R. Rennick You could hire a rig or surrey to take you around the area, even to Hillsboro to the Court House. It would only cost fifteen or twenty cents locally, don’t remember what it cost to go further out.
Syl When you come on south, to where the middle railroad crossing is, that was the Peoples Bank. My dad worked there, his name was George Scott.
Ken What did he do?
Syl He was the janitor there.
Ken Were there buildings near?
Syl Across the street was another bank, the Monroe Bank. It didn’t last long and went broke. He used to take care of cleaning both banks. Right on up the street was Dr. Thomas Donnell’s office. Old Dr. James Keaney & Dr. F. E. Skinner were next. (Dr. G. A. Auerswald had an office and also owned the Drug Store.) Up the hill from there, 3rd street was the Central School & the High School. We had to go up there to get books for our colored schools. And let’s see now, next was E. S. Coxwell’s Funeral home. They operated both an undertaker and a furniture store. Often they would display a body in the casket close to the plate glass front window---so people walking by could see the latest person to die. Right on up to the corner was Slawson’s Hardware. (That was sold to A. J. Crews and then in 1940’s to Al & Kay Gilmore.) On the next corner was the Manhammer Building. (It was located at 304 S. Main St) They sold dry goods. Next to it was Dr. W. H. Farrar’s office. Next was Smith’s Dry Goods.
Add Going back to De Soto………………………..
Ken Well, Mr. Scott, about what year are you talking about?
Syl I guess that was about 1916 or 1918. I was born 1906.
Add Between ’16 or ’18 …..?
Syl We had five butcher shops then. And there (back where the American Bank is now) was the De Soto Roller Mill.
Ken Roller Mill? What was that?
Syl You know……that’s where they grind wheat, corn, barley, etc. This was the biggest mill. De Soto Roller Mills.
Ken Oh, I see.
Syl Near there, on Pratt Street, was Ohlmann’s Blacksmith Shop...close to where the American Bank was. (Mueller’s Appliance Store is there now)
Ken Where you said the Peoples Bank was, did they, did the De Soto Trust Co. buy People’s out or……..
Syl No. The President of the bank (Roscoe Jones) had loaned too many people that couldn’t re-pay, and it upset him so much, he killed himself.
Syl You see the local people had their money there. He had used their money to loan, but since the depression, people couldn’t re-pay their loans. So Roscoe didn’t have anything to show for it. Then some more business men opened it back up under the name of De Soto Trust Company, but it went broke too. I watched them the day they closed it.
Ken Oh, I see…..
Add I was still working for Les Cunningham, he had a negro restaurant on the east side of town.
Ken That’s another thing I wanted to know about……how did the black’s & white’s get along?
Syl I don’t know, but I haven’t heard a lot of talk at all. You see, both sides wanted to get along, and we did.
Ken Have you had any prominent black people in business, or what they did for a living?
Syl The first one, a man named Stokes, he was the first black man to open a restaurant.
Add It was right behind the De Soto Public Library, on Mineral street, where the long steps go up the hill that the kids use to walk to school There was an empty lot, right at the alley. You went up to his little dinner wagon and got your sandwich and he had coffee and things to eat. It was right where Lucas Engineering is.
Add He had a wagon there. You just walked up and got something hot to eat. He had all kinds of stuff to eat. He would take his wagon on over to the passenger trains, while they stopped, and sell eats to the passengers, while they waited.
Ken Something else?
Syl Well, Les Cunningham started working for Stokes, and Les started going over to meet the trains. He had hot dogs, hot tamales, etc.
Add Who was the colored barber that used to be on the east side?
Syl Oh, that was my Uncle Dooley, Will Dubois and John Long. Mr. Long owned the shop. It was in the building where Charlie Meyers is at now. Then on down was a tailor. Ole man Bird. Frank Bird. He and his mother run the tailor shop.
Ken Who had the grocery store?
Syl Old man King. Nelson King. He owned a grocery store on the corner of Main & Fairgrounds. It is right next to where Hopson Lumber Company is now. Most of the area on west to the schools were black. Then from the other side of Hopson’s & the hospital for people with Tuberculosis was all black.
Ken South Main Street.
Syl There was a teacher by the name of Lee. He lived in a log house. He taught school and Sunday school, every Sunday morning. Then down the street from him lived Percy Matthes. K. D. Smith had a little grocery store and an ice cream parlor. He moved here from Valles Mines.
Ken Was he a black man?
Syl Both he and his wife. They kept boarders upstairs. The black porters used to come in on a train and of course didn’t have a place to stay over-night. None of the hotels would let them stay. So K.D. kept them upstairs, he even kept school teachers.
Add They had a grocery store and delivery wagon along with an ice cream parlor. On Sundays they went to church in the morning, they opened the ice cream place in the afternoon.
Ken Why could a black man have his own business in those days, but you don’t have a single one in De Soto now?
Syl Well, Kenny I’ll tell you.
Add It was those chain stores. It was those chain stores that put the little man out of business.
Syl You just couldn’t compete with those big chain stores.
Add The few that did have businesses either died or got old and bad health. Les Cunningham sold out because of bad health. Mr. Smith died.
Syl Mr. Smith died, but his wife kept it open.
Add Then there was Arthur Carter. He had an ice cream parlor and a grocery store.
Syl Right down there on Miller Street.
Syl Right down there across from them old houses.
Add It got till there weren’t enough advantages for them, and they got better educations and they just went where they could get better jobs.
Syl They just left De Soto.
Add They had to leave here to go to high school. When they left, they just didn’t return. They were able to get better jobs in the city.
Ken What kind of schooling did you all have?
Syl Eighth grade…….that’s as far as it would go….
Ken Did you have eighth grade here?
Syl Yea, right. See, Miss Betty Clark, I went to her. We had Mrs. Naomi Reed too. I went to her for three terms. My brother, Louis went to her. She, she was our teacher and her brother was the Principal when we were going to school………….what was his name?
Add Bert……Bert…..forget his last name.
Syl Louis. Bert Louis……..Miss Bradley taught us all. But, the first school teacher was Miss Jean Kelley. The school building we went to was down at the bottom of the Blow Street hill. It used to be a church at one time.
Add Across from that little bridge…….it’s got Grey siding on it.
Syl Yea, that’s where we went………..
Add That was the first Negro School, right there.
Syl The K. P. Hall was right over there, next to my brother George.
Ken Oh, I see.
Syl And the Masons was on the other side.
Syl You know, we had three slaughter pens, and a packing house. I used to work at the pen. It’s right there beside the Rural Fire House and the creek. We made all our bacon, all our lard and all our franks.
Add A lot of Negroes worked there. ”Obie” Henderson was one.
Syl and Mark worked in there. He was a header. (a “header’ was the man who took a post maul and struck the animal in the head---to kill them. Then they cut their throat to let them bleed.)
Ken How many…..how many back then, do you have any idea about many black people lived around here?
Add A lot more than live here now! I’d say close to twelve hundred or so.
Ken Twelve hundred! ……..my
Syl I think. Oh, it’d be twelve hundred alright.
Add Or, ‘cause both churches were full. They even had to enlarge the church. When I come here, there was lots of negroes here.
Ken I see……
Syl They owned all this whole east side. The biggest part were Negroes.
Add Two thirds of the east side was nothing but Negroes when I came here, plus all that lived up St. Louis street. They lived all the way to what’s the school football field now.
Syl That was called the Fairgrounds, where they had the Fairs.
Add They just mostly died out or moved away.
Syl On South Main, it was all colored. From Tanyard Branch on, you might as well say. Beginning at Firestone store, up Stone street, Second street……..all in there were black.
Add There were several Negro farmers around. George McFadden …….
Syl Yeah, he was a farmer.
Add …….and William Wallace.
Ken How big a farm did he have then? …. just about…….
Add Mr. McFadden, he owned I’d say…….
Syl He didn’t own it, he rented it……………..
Add ……about 25 acres. He rented other land around too.
Ken Oh, I see……..
Syl He used to tend up where Miss Akins place is, up on the corner.
Add He owned that……………………..
Syl West Davis…..he had a farm right below them.
Add They all farmed it for their livelihood you know.
Syl …..and they dug lead.
Add ….and then there was Arthur Carter’s father. What was his name?
Syl Old man Tom Carter, they owned their place. And where Arthur Bufford and the Keaton’s. They all dug lead. They dug for years and years. Why, when I was a boy, you could go up there and pick up chunks of lead, big as a football. Then they dug a shaft over 150 ft. deep. They had about ten holes like that. Most of the blacks originated from Valle Mines, MO They dug lead all around that place.
Syl K. D. Smith used to own one of those houses on east main, right next to Copeland’s Trailer Court. He also owned the one where Colonial Nursing Home is now.
Ken I see……………..
Syl Some of our people also went to Frumet, MO and dug lead, and zinc, and copper out there.
Add And Tiff.
Add They dug Tiff down at Vineland, MO too.
Syl They dug it right on out at Klondike road, by Bob Williams place. I used to go out there to hunt.
Add I dug Tiff when they had to use “rattlers” to get the mud and stuff off of it. We would take a hatchet. (A rattler is what we call now a Case Tractor digger. Apparently they dug the dirt and tiff by machine, then the worker would take a hatchet and knock the loose dirt off. They wanted the Tiff to be nice and white, to sell. You received more money the cleaner it was.)
Ken What was Tiff worth?
Syl At the time I dug it we got about six dollars per ton.
Add It took a lot of work to get a ton. A lot of hard work and I was only about 12 or 14 years old. I was still in grade school.
Syl You know Kenny, that when I was growing up, the section work that was done up at the City Cemetery was done by George Mitchell, Frank Mitchell, Joe Mitchell & Bret Mitchell. They lived on out Flucom Road. All of them took care of the whole graveyard. They dug the graves, they cut the grass for Memorial Day. They kept it clean. They could tell you where each section was, who & where they were buried, and they didn’t even have a book to go by.
Add LeRoy Mitchell and Ed Mitchell, they were all kinfolk. Grandpa Mitchell originated from Morse’s Mill, MO. So did great-grandfather Mitchell. They were farmers before they moved to town
Ken Oh, I see…………
Add I’ve heard Aunt Clem Mitchell tell about her father when they had to go to St. Louis to sell hides, etc… They would make fires along the way to run the wolves off from them at night. That’s the way they got things to St. Louis, that’s the way they traveled. They would hook up a team of Mules to pull the cart. You know, it took 2 or 3 days to make the trip and back with the supplies they needed to buy. They used mules instead of horses….they could pull heavier loads and not get tired as quick.
Ken I guess the railroad trains were prominent then?
Syl It wasn’t when I was a kid. There weren’t too many of them at that time. Once they got the round house built, they could make a regular turn-around like they had at Blackwell, MO. They had to go through Hillsboro, on their way and there were some long, high hills to go over.
Add We used oxen to plow. Some of the ground was rocky.
Ken Let’s talk some more about the people on the east side of De Soto.
Syl On the east side? Why I remember when there was practically no one that wasn’t black. All Black. This was the biggest Ward in De Soto. Whoever run for an office of the city, if they won Fourth Ward, they knew they would win the election. So the candidates running for office tried to get out and get their vote. We had North Ward School, South Ward School, East Ward School and Central School plus High School. Central & High schools were the only two buildings on the hill----on Third Street.
Syl Those days we went to the Post Office to get our mail. It was on Easton street, right off of Main street. It was a two story building and the Post Office was on first floor. They had all one side with about 5 x 6 inch boxes, with locking glass doors for you to just go look and see if you had mail. Then just open the small compartment and take it out. The whole wall was covered with them. On the other side, these boxes were all open so the workers could put your mail in the slot.
Add If you had a long or big package, how did they manage that?
Syl They would put a little note in the box to come to the service window at one end of the building.
Add The long distance telephone office was upstairs. In the basement was the National Shoe Company operation. They had all the sewing machines and equipment where the workers down there. They had so many workers, there was room for all the empty boxes to put the shoes is, so they had to rent some other buildings nearby, to store them. They stayed there until they could get the new brick building built. They built it right over near the Joachim Creek. Then they built that swinging bridge, for the workers could go back and forth, to work. They had periods which required them to lay work off for a while; but they stayed in De Soto for about 50 years. They probably moved out because it was getting old.
Syl Old man Cecil Ballard had a butcher shop. After they slaughtered the animal, they brought it to Ballard’s to dress and cut up. He made lard, wienies, franks, anything you wanted. Right next to his butcher shop was Henry Mitchell the barber. All us kids would go there to get our hair cut. And upstairs Miss Mitchell had two or three rooms that she would rent.
Add It was a two story building …….you had to climb the steps that were outside the building.
Ken How much were haircuts those days?
Syl Fifteen cents.
Ken Only fifteen cents?
Syl And ten cents for a shave. I used to cut hair, and I wouldn’t let the hair go down your neck while I cut it. I start cutting hair for 35 cents……
Add ……….twenty five cents….
Ken Did you have your own shop?
Syl Yeah, I did. I had my own razors, straight razors those days. I even still got some clippers and stuff. I had a barber chair I bought off of Joe.
Add It’s still down stairs.
Syl Probably be pretty valuable now. I still got the old hand clippers we used. You don/t see those any more. Everything is electric now days.
Ken How long did you cut hair?
Syl Oh, Lord……I cut hair……
Add I came to De Soto in 1925……..and he was cutting hair then. He’s been cutting hair an awful long time………..for the last fifty years, I know that.
Syl I used to cut Buster Knoll’s hair and all his kids. I used to cut all the women’s hair, too. I’d just set them out on the front porch and cut their hair in the summer time. It was cooler there. I cut Addie’s hair.
Add ….and the Rainwater’s. The neighbors out there, I cut ‘em all. Ol’ man Drissell, the well driller.
Syl There was a hub factory here when I was a boy. It made hubs for wagons, made spokes and all. When you went out Hwy V ....they called it the Mill race. That narrow road run right along the edge of the hill…..two cars could barely pass each other. They had a grinding mill along there ….that’s how it got it’s name…..mill race.
Ken Syl, you were saying something about cars. What about those times. You say you were about ten or fifteen years old. How many blacks owned cars then?
Syl You really didn’t see many cars. All you seen was wagons and spring wagons for a better ride. First car I can remember, was when I went to the County Fair. It was coming down the road. It had regular wagon wheels on, had a drive chain like bicycles today. It came chuggin’ along. The engine sounded like he was drivin’ a tractor. Like to scare me to death, seeing a man sitting up on that thing………wouldn’t you been scared?
Add ….first car I saw in De Soto was a 1926 Hudson…
Syl No…..he had a Ford before that.
Add Well, I’m talking about…..He had to go to K. D. Smith’s funeral. Couldn’t get nobody to take him. Had no way to go……Guess what he done? He went up to the Hudson dealer and bought himself a car to go to the funeral. It was up in Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.
Syl Where was there a Hudson dealer in De Soto?
Add You remember. He was right where Charlie Meyer has his Electric Shop. Right next to Ed Hoyt’s garage. He had a garage right there.
Add Lee Mothershead had a grocery store on the corner where that butcher shop is now.
Add We used to rent cars if we wanted to go anywhere from a fellow name Bob Beckett. He was a Ford dealer. He would rent cars…….for five dollars a day.
Ken Five dollars a day? No mileage?
Add No. Didn’t know what mileage………….
Ken Now days they charge so much a day, plus mileage.
Ken What about those livery stables? You were talking about a livery stable awhile ago. Where they rented………………………
Syl they rented wagons……so many hrs. They charged by the hour.
Ken Did you ever rent one?
Syl No, I had to walk ‘cause I didn’t have no money.
Ken What about when you started courtin’…….how did you manage?
Syl Well, we had the old model ‘T” Fords.
Syl But when we went to the County fair up at the Fairgrounds……they’d have it for a week. We had to go to school, but they let us go on Thursdays. You had to take a quarter to school. They would give you a ticket for the day. They rented these surreys. They would run back and forth in town for a nickel to go out and another nickel to come back home. They would put bright colored tassels on the sides—to dress it up for the fair. You could catch it even to the North end of town----go for a nickel.
Add Main Street wasn’t paved then, was just lots of big chug-holes. When it was rainy, it was just like going through a creek.
Syl When I was a boy too, over along the railroad tracks (where they use for parking now) was just a big draining ditch. The city had put boards and stepping stones to use to walk across the streets or the sidewalks.
Syl See, I was raised on a farm……..In ‘ 26, I made two dollars and twenty-nine cents for eight hours work. Then I got a better job, moved up some, and I had the job of hauling freight. I would meet the trains, separate the mail, picked up baggage, separate all the mail, and then send it back; either North or South. Walter Jenkins & Charlie Keaton were the first Porters that I knew when I grew up.
Syl We worked at the old depot at that time.
Add During the depression we farmed right here on these three lots. We had hogs, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and a big garden. We raised everything we had to eat. We never had a cow, but we raised everything else.
Syl I had nineteen head of hogs here on this one place.
Ken During the depression……did you think it hurt you as bad as a lot of other people?
Syl Yes it did.
Ken It did?
Add In a way……..
Syl Well, a lot of them wouldn’t let me on the W.P.A. (This was a government program to help men find a job during this stressful time. Folks got to making fun of the name. W.P.A. stood for “ We Piddle Around’. They would see men just leaning on a long handle shovel, instead of working. Everyone worked on the streets. That’s when many streets were concreted) I couldn’t get on……………..
Add We didn’t have any money, but we had a living, you know.
Ken That’s what I wanted to say, a lot of people got by if they had a little piece of ground. They could raise much of the food they needed. That must have helped.
Add It did…..
Add ….we were buying this place at that time. We paid ten dollars a month on it, that was lots of money then. Sometimes we had to ‘run over’ and only pay half a month when we didn’t have the money. Those were hard times. If you could find a job, you would get fifteen or twenty cents per hour.
Syl Kenny, you know I think we only paid three hundred and sixty-nine dollars…….yeah, three hundred and sixty-nine dollars for this place. That was all we had in the bank to pay down on it…….then I could hardly make the payments.
Ken How long did the payments go for?
Syl I don’t remember, we just paid until I didn’t owe any longer.
Syl Then I got another job. It was hard work, but I took it. Several of us blacks got jobs hauling ...carrying railroad ties. You got paid five cents a tie for every tie you carried…as many as 300 or 400. The railroad paid us all with a single check. Then we had to divide it up. It didn’t make no difference. If you was there 4 hours or so, everyone wanted paid. One guy would keep track and count the ties you loaded into box cars. The rest would do the carrying in.
Syl These ties were painted with creosote to keep them from rotting. It was hard on your skin. It burned until sometimes it blistered. I had carried ten, fifteen or so and I had to get me an old feed sack and put on my shoulders. I carried a few more, but I just couldn’t carry any more. I think was getting 10 cents a tie.
Syl They had a board about 10’ wide that they had to walk up into the box cars. They just walked, one after the other like mountain goats. The box cars would hold eight hundred ties. To get the last ones in place you had to take two men. They would just pick it up, end over end, until they could slide it into the little room that was left.
Syl One day after I had worked until I was give-out, I got a cramp in my leg. It felt like it was going to break in half. I hobbled off that pile. The Joachim Creek was about 20 feet away, so I got over there as soon as I could. I was half walking half running. Bending….hurting….and the guys just stood there laughing so hard, they couldn’t work.
Ken What did you all do…..what did you do for recreation then? When you were courtin’?
Add We’d go to the show.
Syl ….picture show.
Ken That’s the only thing?
Add Or go to the ice cream parlor….
Syl Sometimes we would just walk up the creek
Add In those days people just walked. Lots of Sundays after church, we’d go home and eat our lunch, then we would walk the railroad tracks; from here to Vineland, MO and back (5 miles) or sometimes we’d go the other way, North, to Victoria, MO (4 miles)
Syl Every Sunday we would try a different destination.
Add You’d meet different people.
Syl We would usually walk different places…. 5 or 6 miles.
Add Sometimes I’d take my pole along and fish for a while. In the summertime we would take a basket or something to pick berries. They would just be growing wild.
Syl We liked to walk to Vineland, MO when the blackberries were ripe. We could pick enough to take some home. The older colored people would just sit around, or maybe go get some ice cream. The ice cream parlor was just around the corner. Maybe the church would have a basket dinner. We always enjoyed having box suppers.
Ken Box suppers…………..?
Add You would fix a nice meal, put it a box and then wrap it all up pretty. The men would bid on them, then whoever’s box you bought----you would eat with.
Syl Up at the church, ever so often through the week, they’d play “Pin The Tail On The Donkey” The kids loved to play too. The men often would pitch horseshoes, just to see who was the best…..or we’d play ball…………….we had our own ball teams.
Add Or we would play Croquet. That’s how we spent our weekends.
Syl Remember…..right where Mac’s place was. They had a croquet gate, all leveled and rolled. He wouldn’t let you drive your wagon near the playing grounds. That’s where Les Cunningham’s brother started the Boy Scouts group. …….they didn’t last very long. I guess they couldn’t keep the boys interested….I don’t know.
Add Syl and me got married at three-thirty, and went back to work at five-thirty. By the time we got back to town, and I changed clothes it was time for me to go back to work.
Ken Where did you work? Back then?
Add At the Arlington Hotel----just a few blocks from here. Along the railroad tracks.
Ken What did you do?
Add I worked as a cook in the day and he worked there nights. He’d come to work at seven, I’d be going home and he would just be starting his shift.
Ken You two got married, working like that. You wouldn’t have any time…..
Syl Well we did. I rented a Model T from my brother-in-law to go get married. We lived in that little house down there (Apparently pointing to the place they could see it from where they were sitting) We went to Hillsboro to get married. Those days you had to go down through Victoria, and on North to Hillsboro. Soon about as we got back, I had to go fire up the furnace, then go meet the drummers (salesmen) at the train and bring them with their luggage….then take them up to their room at the hotel.
Ken You’d meet every passenger train?
Syl Yes. I had to walk and push a two wheeled cart to haul their luggage back to the hotel. They would tip us…..maybe 50 cents. For a while, for a good while I was the only delivery boy in the east side of town. The old man running the hotel also had a grocery store right across the street. I had to go to the boxcar in his Model T, it was an old one, and haul my feed, put them back of the store. I usually had groceries to deliver, then I would go weigh out small bags of corn. I got seven dollars for a whole week.
Add I worked seven days for Mrs. Coxwell out on Rock Road. I cooked, cleaned house did the washings, iron clothes…..all those things. I never got a day off. We didn’t have a car yet, so I had to walk, almost a mile back & forth. I got Sundays off.
Syl About that time I started working at Theodores Café. It stayed open ‘round the clock, 24 hrs. a day. It would be open for folks just coming into town. They could get food, before they went on home. I started at 8 p.m. and got off at 8:00 a.m. He paid me twelve dollars a week, and you didn’t have no dishwasher, either. Addie was my dishwasher on Saturday nights...that was our busiest time. She only worked to 5:00 p.m. washing dishes. Then I had to cook the beef roast, and pork roasts. I had to peel onions, and my potatoes. I also had to keep up with the short orders. I even had to make my own pie crust….there was always something to do. I even de-boned my roasts. That’s where I learned to roll and tie them. I kept the bones and made soup the next day out of em’.
Ken You must have gotten awfully, awfully tired. That was a tough schedule to keep.
Syl I can tell you one thing ………I didn’t need any sleeping pills.
Syl Why Kenny, she got as good as I did in the butcher shop……front quarter, hind quarter of beef in there. They didn’t have no electric saw either. They just had to saw round steaks with just a regular butchers saw. An oversized hack saw.
Add At the grocery stores then, everything came out of 50 lb. sacks. Coffee was even in 100 lb. sacks. Navy beans you had to scoop ‘em out of a sack, then weigh them on a hanging scale. Nothing was pre-packed like today.
Syl I’d be out in the country sometimes even until after dark. We would be catching pigs or loading cattle, sheep, whatever. We done the butchering next day. Mostly just sawing them down the middle and go from there.
Add We worked as long as eighteen hours at one work shift. Seven dollars a week for seventeen hours.
Syl We didn’t even get a tip for Christmas. That’s right.
Ken Tell me about when you first got married. Where did you live? How did you get by?
Add When me and him first got married….the first place we had was a little white house on Blow Street down by the bridge. It was on the right hand side as you start up Blow hill. That’s where we lived…..we had just sit down to our last bite of food in the house.
Syl What about my uncle…………..
Ken You didn’t know where your next meal was coming from?................
Syl We didn’t have any money coming in………..
Add and one time you giving your food to your uncle………that’s the same time I’m talking about. I got up and let him eat. He just dropped in. We didn’t know he was coming. I just let him eat mine and I did without.
Syl Remember? He was driving an old hearse for that Undertaker in Potosi. He drove up about the time supper was ready…….
Add See, he was………if I had told him that I didn’t have enough food, he would have gone back home….or something……….But I was too independent or proud to say anything…..
Ken You say he drove for an undertaker in Potosi?
Syl Yea, He’d been taking a body to Richwood’s, MO.
Add Richwood’s or somewhere.
Syl He just dropped by because he knew we lived in De Soto.
Add You know Kenny it would be hard for kids now days to believe that we used to get on the train….get on the train and ride down to the Vineland Station. We had to pay about six cents, a penny a mile. They would be having some big affair going on at Vineland. They used to dance a lot. People from all over….Festus and lots from De Soto...they would get there somehow. We would dance for a couple hours. About four o’clock, we’d just stop dancing and go back to the railroad station to meet the passenger train that was on its way back to St. Louis. Of course it came right through De Soto.
Syl We used to go on lots of picnics them days------we liked to fix a lunch, put it all together and everybody just have fun. Kids and all.
Ken That sounds like fun to me.
Add Oh, it was. Some of the people would be doing square dancing. Course, not many of the kids didn’t dance…..but them old people……….they loved to. Most of the time it was free. It didn’t cost anything. We always had sodie-water (Grape, Orange, Root beer) The only time we had soda pop, was at them picnics. If the pop had gotten warm before you drank it…….you could take your hand and slap it on the bottom….and when you took the cap off……..it’d empty most of the soda by itself…….
Syl Just like champagne. ... My brother Louis remembers what we would do. I had one around here someplace. The bottle had a little wire that you undone. It was fun to see it just explode. Them soda bottles was pretty thick glass too, but sometimes it would just blow the bottle to “kingdom come”. ….My brother Louis worked there you know Artesian Bottling Co.
Ken Most of those places are gone now, aren’t they?
Syl Yes. We had the bottling works, the packing house, and where Smitty’s Carpet is, was a butcher shop there. Andy Noland’s There was a slaughter open right across the railroad tracks, along the Joachim Creek. Further on down main street you had another butcher shop……and the jewelry store was Paul Perry’s Jewelry Store.
Ken How come there was so many butcher shops all over town?
Syl All the farmers raised most of their food, but the local people had to buy everything right here in De Soto. Most of them did have cars to go to St. Louis, so they had to get everything here.
Add People never went to Festus, like they do now days.…in fifteen or twenty minutes you (can) be to Festus. Then, if you did want to go to Festus, you had to hire a hack…..
Ken What do you mean, a hack?
Syl it was an old Model T Ford truck, with a cloth top and some fringe around the edges. It had benches up along both sides for people to sit on. Some people even sat on the tailgate. If it was really full, some would sit on the floor.
Ken That was pretty slow……
Add Didn’t matter, that was the way it was.
Syl They hauled the mail to Festus, too. All the mail that went between De Soto and Festus went that way.
Ken They put them in canvas bags. Mail-bags they were called. Sometimes they even sat on the mail bags. It was a more comfortable ride.
Syl Man, I’m telling you, it was something around here then. You seldom saw a car. Just horses and wagons. Sometimes you would see a wagon load of wood coming down the road.
Add They raised lots of fruit over in Ste. Genevieve. They would peddle it all over. They would come to De Soto once in a while. They had grapes, peaches, and apples---lots of produce.
Syl They would bring a butcher (shop) wagon. They would haul a side or two of beef, maybe a couple hogs. They had a scale, and they would just cut you however much you wanted; wrap it up. That’s the way we got fresh meat in cold weather---winter season.
Add Practically everybody raised hogs here, Kenny. They would bring it to a smoke house to cure. If you had room under the house, like a basement or more likely just a cellar. It was just a small space, with steps leading down to the space. This is where you stored things for the winter. Potatoes especially. Cabbage, carrots, turnips, apples-----whatever you had.
Syl No one had refrigerators back then. Some folks had small ice boxes. When you had one of those, you had to go Duffner’s and get a small block of ice. It had a storage place for it. Put it in a small metal pan, that you had to empty, as the ice melted.
Add People used to prepare for winter. Had to, couldn’t keep it otherwise. Kids now days want everything. They just go to the grocery store and buy it in tin cans or glass. Everything is available.
Syl Back when we was kids, you just ate whatever your parents put on the table. You didn’t say you wanted this or that----you ate what was on the table. We ate it….or we went hungry. We ate corn bread or biscuits. We didn’t have what we call light bread, all nicely wrapped up.
Add Today they eat cereal from a box. Cold dry cereal. Just with some milk and sugar. We used to eat “mush”. ….We could buy Cream of Wheat. Eat it hot, or let it cool and slice it. Next morning fry it and put syrup or jelly on it.
Syl Or we had pancakes. We ate them a lot……it was a lot different in the world back then.
Syl When we had snow, we had snow. It would start snowing in October, at least by the last of October. We would have snow sometimes up to your knees. Snow would be on the ground until spring. Once in a while it would rain, freeze on top. We could skate from here all the way up St. Louis Street, clear up to the Fairgrounds. Maybe two weeks at a time. All the big hills would be wonderful places for kids to go sledding. The Joachim Creek would freeze over where you could go skating. Farmers could drive a wagon and team of horses across it.
Add When there was thick ice on the creek, Papa cut the ice in blocks, bury it the ground in a big bed of sawdust, and cover it with a tarpaulin. Believe it or not, but we had ice until late in the summer. We had a cistern to catch water. In the summer, when we didn’t have much rain, we would bail out the remaining water, scrub down the whole inside, getting it ready for the February snow & rains. We wouldn’t let any rain in the cistern until cold weather came. Then we would have nice clean cool water the next summer.
Syl See, Kenny, my ……..
Add …….we could go down to the spring house, that’s where we kept the milk and butter, when we wanted a good cold drink.
Syl We had some strange eating habits, or things you shouldn’t eat. Down at the Arlington they had black cooks. They just had one head cook, the rest was porters. The dining room of course was for whites. The blacks couldn’t sit in the dining room. The ones that served folk weren’t supposed to eat any of the grapes….oh, maybe they would give is 4 or 5, but you couldn’t just eat all you wanted. They wouldn’t let you have any of the grapefruit either. They didn’t want us to have any biscuits….we ‘sposed to eat light bread. Well Addie’s mother would always save me back some nice brown biscuits. My brother would do it too. He worked there part time. If he walked by….and if he’s see a pan full, he would just grab a hand full and stick some in his pocket.
Add Right next to the Arlington they had a beer garden and dance floor. Sometimes they would go to fighting and throwing things, even breaking out windows. Somebody would go out and call the police. Policeman, we just had one, would walk the beat on foot, ‘cause he had no car. He’d come over and get things quieted down. They would stay until midnight….then the owners would close it down. Then he closed down, and opened the swimming pool business. We had a pretty big pool. (I think it was about 30’ x 20’…..maybe 8 or 9 feet at the deep end.) They had a good diving board and even a tower you could dive off, or jump. We had one especially good swimmer. Dwight Milfeldt. He was a long distance runner, so had a great set of lungs. He would dive off the tower, swim under water, touch all corners, before he came up for a breath. He was sump’in
Syl I think he charged 10 cents to swim…..so lots of kids could afford that little cost. Then every couple weeks, he had to drain out all the water, scrub it down and re-fill it. They didn’t have all the chemicals, like we do now days, to purify the water. He had a deep well drilled, so he had plenty of water to fill it without using the city water----that would cost him too much.
Add Right up from the hotel there was a shoe shop. It belonged to H. J. Kite. Old man Cross had one over there too.
Syl We had a good bakery shop down in the north end. Fred Spross owned it. He used to take a small buggy-truck and deliver bakery goods all over town. He would usually be finishing up by the time he got to the top of Boyd Street, and school kids walking home from school would run after him and beg for cookies…….he was kindly old man, and would give them some---he couldn’t sell them next day, ‘cause everybody wanted fresh. He owned a nice big plot of land up by the schools, and he donated it to the city, where the made a park, and named it Spross Park, to honor him and his wife.
Add ….you know he owned that nice big red granite house---he owned all that area……and the blacks cleaned house, washed and ironed clothes…..then they had to walk all the way back home to the east side of town.
This was the conclusion of the interview.