In The Beginning
The purchase in 1803 of the vast territory west of the Mississippi River, by the United States extending through Oregon to the Pacific coast and south to the Dominions of Mexico, constitutes one of the most important events that ever occurred in the history of this great nation. It gave to our Republic additional room for expansion and stupendous growth. This country was unsettled, wild and magnificent. Not unlike the people who migrated to it in order to tame it.
The total population of the Territory, as shown by the United States census in 1810, was 20,845. The population would grow fairly rapidly from this time on and territorial organizations would soon develop. Congress organized Missouri as a Territory on July 4, 1812, with a Governor and General Assembly. The first counties were formed. After much debate and deliberation regarding the “Missouri Compromise”, Missouri was admitted into the union as a state on August 10, 1821. It consisted of fifteen counties. Additional counties would be formed and organized over the next 20 years until a total of 114 counties would ultimately make up the state of Missouri.
The fifty-seventh county to be organized within the state was Macon County, achieving that status officially in 1837. Naturally, people were beginning to settle there prior to that time. These people tended to be poor but very strong willed. They survived in a territory that was harsh and demanding. Most migrated from Virginia and Kentucky, some with intermediary stops before finally arriving in Macon County. What they lacked in worldly conveniences, they made up for with grit and determination. Soon the county was subdivided into townships, twenty-four in total.
Two townships in particular are central to the development of the towns to be named Mercyville and Elmer, those townships being Walnut Creek Township and Easley Township. Walnut Creek Township derived its name from a creek that flows through the northern portion of the same. It is supposed that Fisher Rice was the earliest settler in the township; he came from Kentucky in 1834. Two or three years afterwards Gabriel Lunday from Illinois, Amos Williams from Kentucky, Nicholas Gunnels from Kentucky, and A. B. Griffin from Kentucky, located in the township. A little later, between 1840 and 1845, James L. Herron from Ralls county, Missouri, Enoch Johnson from Kentucky, Ignatius Burnes, from Ralls County, Missouri, Moses Lovern from Kentucky, Charles W. Truitt from Ralls county, Jeremiah Biswell from Kentucky, William Huckaby from Virginia, James Banning from Randolph county, Missouri, Joseph Bailey from Ralls county (originally from Shenandoah County, Virginia), and John Bigsby from Kentucky, emigrated to Macon county and settled in Walnut Creek township.
Easley Township is one of the northwestern townships in Macon County and is located just north of Walnut Creek Township. The township was named after Judge William Easley, who emigrated from Kentucky about the year 1838. He was one of the judges of the county courte from 1852 to 1856. Among other old settlers were David Williams and Thomas Williams from Kentucky, George Cood, James Cook and Leo McDavitt from Kentucky, James Broyles from Ennessee, John McDavitt and Joseph Sears from Kentucky. At a later date came Milton and Marion Truitt, John Roan, Dr. William B. Llly, Colton B. Sears, J. Hendrickson and others.
Over the next 180 years or so, people would come and people would go, as the population of the country would shift restlessly. But these brave and industrious men and their families would civilize and develop a wild country, establishing roots that would endure to this day. And so begins the piecing together of a puzzle, a puzzle with many pieces, some still missing, that placed together weave a colorful story. The story draws together characters from many parts of the world, finally centering its plot in Walnut Creek and Easley Townships, Macon County, Missouri. From there the characters again begin dispersing to remote places, but still having the common roots that will bind them together forever.
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By Amy Mock and Jim Kline
A close look at the towns of Missouri in the early days of the 1930’s and 1040’s would show that nearly all of them had one thing in common: semi-professional baseball. During this time professional baseball was very popular, with famous teams such as the “Gas House Gang,” and the big league’s popularity carried over to smaller towns in the form of semi-professional baseball.
Baseball meant a lot to towns of Northeast Missouri. The rivalries between towns were sometimes so intense that the games often led to gambling and fighting among townspeople and players. Some of the towns in Missouri that had teams were Trenton, Chillicothe, Graysville, Richmond, St. Joseph, Kirksville, Elmer, La Plata, Macon, Brookfield, Fulton, Sedalia, Carrollton, Memphis, Kansas City and St. Louis.
Many of the teams in Missouri also played out-of-state teams. For instance, the Elmer Panthers played the Chicago Stars, the Toledo Hens from Iowa, the Cincinnati Buckeyes, the Texas Seals, the House of Davids, members of a religious cult from Michigan, and the teams from Lenexa and Wichita, Kansas.
It was easy for the bigger towns that belonged to more extensive leagues to organize teams and games than it was for smaller towns which had to organize on their own. One of these small town teams was the Elmer Panthers with Walker Tate as the coach and manager. Owner of the Elmer Café, Tate used his business as a base for communication with other team managers to plan games. He also organized games by telegraph, telephone, mail and sometimes by traveling to the opponent’s towns to set up the games.
Semi-professional teams did not have owners, but the teams had 3xpenses which were sometimes major. For instance, the cost of a baseball during the 30’s and 40’s was $2.00, a bat would cost $3.65, and a glove would cost about $5.00. The only players that received payment to cover these expenses were the pitchers. These paid players along with the rest of the team members provided their own transportation. Sometimes the players were given equipment by the managers of their team; otherwise, the players paid for their own equipment and uniforms. Steve Buban, part-time pitcher for the Panthers, said that he charged from $30 to #150 to pitch a game. The teams he pitched for usually paid him to play so that they would have a sure chance of winning. The more a team needed a win, the more they were willing to pay for good players. Buban was said to be such a talented pitcher that many of the other players and fans thought that he would go into professional baseball. H refused the offers, however, because he was receiving a good amount of money pitching semi-pro ball and made good pay from his job at the shoe factory.
The Elmer Panthers were one of the best teams in the area during the forties, and at one time they had a record of 33 straight wins. Some people thought they were the best in the state, even better than the “big city” teams. The Elmer team consisted of mostly local players, with a few from nearby towns. Bernice Mock, who was catcher for the team, also played for the Kernels from Mitchell, Nebraska, in the minor leagues. Other members consisted of Albert Sadler, Ray wood, Ernest Bailey, tootsie Hulse, Clay Franks, Harold Elliott, Harvey Bellfield, Harold Pullam, Harold Woods, Leonard Herrin, and many others. The fans’ pride and confidence in the Panthers led to gambling. The bets were sometimes large, depending on the teams that played and who played for each team. Although the players were confident, they didn’t tempt fate. They indulged in superstitions to keep their luck from going away. Some players were their ball caps a certain way, and some didn’t wash their uniforms for fear the luck might be washed out.
Old timers recall an incident in one of the Panther’s games involving Clay Franks and Bernice Mock in Joplin. The Joplin team had hired a pitcher from the Pittsburgh Pirates, a professional team. The game was scoreless until the top of the ninth inning when the Panthers were up to bat. Nervous about the new pitcher, Franks called a time out. Franks knew that one run would win the game for them, so he told Mock, “He’s gonna give you a fast ball, so I want you to swing from the ground up and hit the middle of that scoreboard behind center field.” Mock tensely buckled up, the pitch was thrown, and Mock hit the ball into the middle of the scoreboard. Needless to say, the Panthers won the game.
Clay Franks was involved in another game-clinching play when the Panthers played the trustee team at the Jefferson City Penitentiary. The Panthers were behind by three with bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning. Franks was up to bat, and he knew that it was all on his shoulders to make the runs. The pitch was thrown, and Franks hit a home-run out of the park. He was later told that the only other man to do that was Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Panthers played a lot of games in penitentiaries, not only at Jefferson City, but Leavenworth and Fort Madison. Albert Sadler said that many times prison officials paid the teams that played in the “pens.” One time, during a game at the Jefferson City Penitentiary, Albert Wood broke his leg while sliding into second base. The prison doctors immediately set his leg, and he was able to leave after the game.
In 1941 the Panthers played a semi-pro team from Puerto Rico. At this time, the Puerto Ricans had just won the United States National Championship, defeating Enid, Oklahoma. The winning team went on a United States tour, and Walker Tate discovered they were in Kansas City. He secured a deal for the foreign team to travel to Elmer and battle the Panthers. In a long 14 inning game, the Panthers came out on top, 3-2. During the same year, the Panthers won the state tournament in Sedalia. Once again, the Panthers proved that they were one of the best semi-pro baseball teams in the United States.
Puerto Rico wasn’t the toughest team Elmer played. Two of the best teams they played were the Kansas City Monarchs and the St. Louis Giants. Both of these teams were members of the Negro League, which was a separate professional division. The Negro teams not only played each other, but also the semi-pro teams. Many of the players on the Negro teams later advanced to the major leagues and became legendary baseball players, which was a great blow to semi-professional baseball because of the loss of competition leading to the loss of popularity. Some of the great talents were Jesse Owens, Satchel Paige, and Jackie Robinson, all of whom played for the Monarchs.
At one time, Jesse Owens had his own baseball team. When they played Elmer, according to Albert Sadler, Owens claimed that he could “outrun any man alive.” Taking this as a challenge, Steve Buban proposed a race. Owens set the terms: He would start at second base, and Buban would start at the pitcher’s mound. The first one to reach home plate would win. After the race, Buban was convinced that Owens’ claim was true.
A major event that adversely changed the pace of semi-professional baseball was the United States’ entrance into World War II. Many of the Elmer players were drafted into the service, including Steve Buban, Leonard “Stretch” Herrin, Harold “Lefty” Elliott, and others. The war was the most effective factor in the decline of the interest in semi-pro ball. For a few years following the war, some of the teams regrouped and made a semi-successful attempt to reestablish the strong popularity they once knew. The teams prospered for a while, but interest soon faded, and the teams had disbanded by 1948.
Perhaps semi-professional baseball’s popularity declined because fans lost interest. The 1940’s were a time of economic troubles, and one of the things that was inexpensive and available was the gasoline needed to go and watch a game. After the war, the economy improved and society became more quickly paced. People found less and less time to watch semi-professional baseball, and the greater amount of money they were receiving brought better types of entertainment for them.
Semi-professional baseball may be gone, but it has not been forgotten. Memories of the exciting games, talented players, and great seasons are vivid in the memories of those who played or just watched the unforgotten sport.
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Elder J. W. Cook of Elmer has recently published a book of peculiar interest, entitled “Forty-five Years a Minister.” This work was reviewed by a writer for the New York Sun and the Post-Dispatch because of the curious incidents related. The author does not pretend to be a man of great learning, but in his forty-five years of clerical labor, he has seen much of life, and he tells it just as he saw it. While engaged in his chosen profession Elder Cook earned his livelihood by plowing, chopping wood and hauling. Sometimes he would hire out to a neighbor as a common laborer for fifty cents a day. During his long services as a circuit rider, or country pastor, Elder Cook says that his yearly income for all his pastoral duties combined didn’t average $20 a year. Sometimes he would travel long distances through snow and ice and his only compensation would be his meals. At other times he would be given a pair of gloves or some socks. Had anybody presented him with a $5 bill he would have been wonderfully surprised. The elder kept a record of his work, which he presented in his book as follows:
Sermons preached, 5,784; miles traveled, 35,840; weddings performed, 780; miles traveled to officiate at weddings, 15,600-all on horseback or on foot; funerals preached, 936; miles traveled for funerals, 18,720.
(Reprinted from History of Macon County, 1910)
Author's note: Elder Cook's book is available on Amazon.com for $125.
The following note was written by Patsy Knotts, Elmer, Missouri
Yes, Reverend James W. Cook was my great grandfather. He preached all over this part of Missouri and even into the Ozarks. If the book Johnnie’s referring to is the one I have, the two little girls he mentions are my great Aunts Bertha and Della (Hughes).
I have one book left and I gave one each to my daughters.
My Grandmother, Fannie Harbalt Cook Wilhite lived in Elmer as you probably recall. Her first husband was James Wade (I think) Cook, but one of the James (maybe Uncle Leonard) was a Winfield. I think I’d better look up some of the information I have to be sure.
I just went and got the book I have entitled Forty Five Years a Minister, by Rev. J. W. Cook, published at Comet Office in South Gifford, Missouri. Introduction is by J. S. Gashwiler.
First page is a tintype of Rev. J. W. Cook when he first entered the ministry. The next page is from a photograph of Rev. J. W. Cook when his day’s work was almost done.
It is certainly a true chronicle of the times. Another ancestor of mine was a doctor who served where he was needed and died trying to cross a raging river to serve a patient. His horse drowned too.
In October, 1875, there was considerable excitement up the Chariton valley about Mercyville, now Elmer, concerning gold discoveries. A correspondent of the Macon Republican writes this in the issue of October 14 about the situation:
“New Cambria, October 11. Great excitement! Our hotels are crowded with strangers going to and returning from the gold regions, this being the most accessible point. Doubt no longer exists that gold can be found in paying quantities. It has been found in dust as high as fifty colors to the pan. Nuggets have been found varying from the size of a grain of wheat to that of a grain of corn. The number now prospecting in the vicinity of Mercyville is estimated at from 400 to 800, the people coming here from all parts of Missouri, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Iowa and many other states. All agree that the prospect for gold is as good as that of California or any other western state or territory. Your correspondent, having a desire to know the true facts, visited the region himself last week and looked the whole field over, until he was thoroughly satisfied that it was no humbug. He saw the particles washed out in different places, and has now in his possession a specimen the size of a helf grain of wheat. Anybody can see it by calling at my office in this town. I have also some beautiful specimens of fine stones of the order of diamond, ruby, agate, etc., all of which will compare favorable with any found in foreigh countries. Every person I met was jubilant and all were busy arranging to engage in mining for the precious metal. Old miners are cursing themselves because they had in days gone by spent all their means to prepare themselves to go to the far west to dig for gold, when at the same time, had they but known the truth, they could have found it right at their own door in paying quantities. Hurrah for old Macon County!. The good time has come!”
The character of mining prosecuted at that time was known as placer, like that of California in the early days. The excitement up at Mercyville finally died down when the gold ceased to appear, though from time to time small discoveries have since been made.
(Reprinted from History of Macon County, 1910)
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Elmer’s earliest soldier is undoubtedly James Howell, buried in the Shirley Cemetery near Elmer. James fought in the Revolutionary War. He served as a private in Captain Thomas Will’s Company, 15th Virginia Regiment of foot, commanded by Major Gusstove B. Wallace. The 15th Virginia Regiment was raised on December 28, 1775 in eastern, Virginia for service with the Continental Army. The regiment would see action at the Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown, Battle of Monmouth and the Siege of Charleston. Most of the regiment was captured at Charlestown, South Carolina on May 12, 1780 by the British. It is not known if James was among the captives.
James Howell was born in 1744 in Virginia. Around 1763, he married Martha Denny. James and Martha moved from Virginia to Kentucky sometime after their first son John was born, about 1790. They lived in Barren County, Kentucky for nearly 50 years. Martha died in 1836. About 1841, John moved to Illinois with other members of the family. It seems that he almost immediately moved on to Missouri (about 1842) to live with his daughter Nancy Cook (who had married his son John). It appears that his youngest son James Pinson Howell and his family also moved into Missouri with James, James and Martha had at least 7 children.
James died in 1844 at the age of 100 years. He is buried in the Shirley Cemetery near Elmer.
(Information obtain from various internet sources by John Mathis)
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The following remembrance is copied from the Elmer Centennial (1987) and was offered by Pauline Patrick, an Elmer resident at the time..
“Lawrence’s grandparents, Jasper Patrick and Mary McDavitt Patrick, owned and operated a livery service and a boarding-rooming house in Elmer. The house, a large frame house over a little hill northeast of what was then known as the “Drake’s Store”, now known as the former home of Bernice Mock. Salesmen in that day came via the railroad, rented vehicles and teams of riding horses to visit little towns not on the rail routes to sell their wares. One evening in the summer time, a gentleman rode up and rented a room and care for his horse. A well built young man, shortly after supper he retired to his upstairs room. During the night, a “ruckus” occurred outside, a barking dog and a snorting horse. Mr. Patrick slept in the downstairs room. He arose, dressed and stepped out in the hall to go outside. The gentleman of the evening before met him in the hall and said “a horse was out in the yard. I put him back in the stall. Everything is alright out there”. So Mr. Patrick went back to bed. After all ate breakfast the next morning, the stranger saddled his horse and tied it to a hitchrack in the front of the house. He and Mr. Patrick sat visiting on the porch. After an hour or so, three horseback riders (strangers) rode up. The gentleman greeted them, mounted his horse and rode off with them. Know what? One of the three was Jesse James and the other two were the Younger Brothers. Frank James had been the overnight guest. They rode out of town going west and out of the country side.”
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Shucking in a rain that varied from drizzle to downpour, Ted Koger, of Elmer, became the only man to win the Missouri State Corn Shucking Contest three years in a row. For 24 hours it rained, turning the fine site of the contest on the Marion Motter farm, nine miles northwest of Kirksville, into a vast mudhole.
Just a few days before the date of the contest, October 31, the contest site had been moved from the Grimm farm south of Kirksville, as announced in the last Missouri Ruralist, to the farm of Marian Motter. The wind and rain had played havoc with the fine Grimm field, until it was judged unsatisfactory by the contest officials. The Motter field had been planted as an alternate field last spring and the change was made with little confusion.
Ted Koger, that popular champion, was the chief show for the few thousand spectators who got drenched in watching their favorite sport. Ted had a nice crowd from home following him all the way thru the slick field.
Koger picked 32.65 bushels to win the title. He, as well as all the other shuckers, said that had the field been in dry condition a new state record would have been set. For all agreed that the Motter field presented the shuckers the best corn ever shucked in a state contest.
In a rain that never ceased to fall, the shucks were heavy. Koger had only seven ounces of shucks to the 100 pounds, showing that he had kept this in mind. Deductions for shucks ran as high as 532 pounds for one contestant. Koger also had the largest gross load.
In the National Corn Husking Contest near Tonica, Illinois, on November 3, Koger placed eighth with a score of 40.09 bushels.
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The Elmer Concert Band was organized on August 26, 1907, with seven members, and after paying for the instruments individually, $1.50 was assessed each member to be paid monthly in advance to establish a teacher’s fund. Their first appearance in public was at a box social which netted $67.90, the magnificent cake given by Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Hand bringing over $16. They now have 15 members and $79.35 in the treasury. Following is a roster of officers and members: J. W. Patterson, President; Henry Howerton, Vice-President; J. Green MacKenzie, Secretary; W. M. Agee, Treasurer; and Alfred Lynch, Librarian. Members include: Cornets, Cellus Hays, W. Griffith and Rochel Hughes; Tenors, Floyd Banning, Edgar Herring, Ben Davis; Baritone, snare: Tean Tate, base. Instructor, J. S.Fletcher, New Boston, Missouri.
Pictured below are: Front Row – L. to R.: Roy Patterson, Alfred Lynch, Teen Tate, Henry Howerton. Back row – Edgar Herring, Will Agee, Zella Hays and J. Green McKenzie.
Heroic Action by Elmer Soldier
Those who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States are all heroes in this author’s mind. Their willingness to put their lives at risk so the rest of us can enjoy the freedom and lifestyle available in this country deserves the highest respect from their countrymen. I salute them all. Occasionally, though, actions by an individual goes well above the call of duty. Such was the case of Jerry Hall, who risked his life in order to provide safety for his comrades in battle. The following is a reprint of an article reported in the Army Reporter.
Silver Star and Two Purple Hearts for Brave Elmer Soldier
Sgt. Jerry R. Hall, son of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Hall of Elmer, is the recipient of the Silver Star, the third highest award the United States gives for bravery. He was also awarded two purple hearts and was promoted from Spec. 4 to Sergeant as the result of gallantry in action on December 27 in the Republic of Vietnam.
Col. Peter Urban, commanding officer of the 38th Army Brigade (AD), pinned the medal on Hall before an honor guard made up of his buddies from the brigade H. Battery. The presentation was made in Korea in August and Hall received his discharge from the Army this month and is now at the home of his parents.
Hall served in Vietnam with HHC, 3rd Bn. 8th Inf., 4th Inf. Division and went to Korea after a short tour in a hospital in Japan. He has been in the army for two years.
The General Orders announcing the award of the Silver Star to Hall reads as follows:
“Specialist Four Hall distinguished himself by heroic action as point man on a reconnaissance patrol in the Republic of Vietnam. Upon detecting voices on the trail in front of him, Specialist Hall informed his platoon leader and proceeded forward alone while the rest of the platoon deployed to flank the suspected enemy. Upon moving 15 to 20 meters to his front, Specialist Hall was confronted by an armed North Vietnamese soldier, killing him instantly. Immediately afterwards, the entire patrol was taken under heavy fire, pinning them down and wounding Hall in the head.
“The fire soon increased to a point where it was impossible for the patrol to move without taking further casualties. Spec. Hall, realizing this, jumped to his feet and fired at the enemy causing them to cease fire. He then attempted to move back to cover, but sustained a foot wound when the enemy’s automatic weapons began firing again. Alternating between firing and crawling, he managed to reach a covered position where he passed out.
“As the fire fight progressed, the patrol began expending their supply of ammunition when one of the patrol members threw some ammunition to the squad leader, which fell short. Spec. Hall, regaining consciousness and realizing the situation, retrieved the ammunition and crawled back under heavy fire to the squad leader. Upon reaching the Sergeant, he once again returned fire until an enemy round struck his weapon and rendered it useless. After several minutes passed, the patrol was able to disengage the enemy and returned to a secure location where Spec. Hall’s wounds were dressed.“Specialist Hall’s unimpeachable valor in close combat against superior enemy forces was in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service and reflects great courage.”
It happened at the 1913 Old Settlers Reunion in Elmer
A Quaint Missouri Community and Their Peculiar Baseball Rules. How a Strict Interpretation of These Rules Won the Most Extraordinary Game in the Records. Written by Edgar White around 1913.
Toward the close of the summer, an Old Settlers' Reunion was held at Elmer, in northwest Macon County, Missouri, and on "big Thursday" a game of baseball was played between the Elmer and Atlanta teams, under the "Goldsberry Rules." Goldsberry is a village back in the interior, where the people do everything in their own way. Most of them rest up on Saturday, because the Seventh Day Adventists there regard it as the Sabbath. According to Goldsberry's baseball code, when a batter hits the ball he can keep on running till the fielders find it, no matter if it goes into the next county, and every time he gets around the batter scores. Sometimes a fellow makes three runs off one hit.
Sam Griffith was captain of the Elmer Club on the big day of the reunion. Last Christmas Sam's friends gave him a pedometer, and he's keeping tab on how many miles he walks in 1913. His machine now registers 3,150 miles, and is busy every day.
There were 5,000 people at the reunion on the big day, which is some crowd in the country. The Atlanta Goliaths had played their ninth inning, and scored 50. The Elmer Invincibles were on their ninth inning, with a score of 25. Two men were out and—no, you guessed wrong; there wasn't anybody on the bases. And Sam Griffith, the pedometer man, walked to the bat. Everybody knew the jig was up, and those who had bet on Elmer had begun paying up. They didn't know what a resourceful man Pedometer Sam was.
Over on the edge of the left field, just above the ravine, was the Elmer brass band, waiting to hit up a tune when the game was over. The basedrummer had laid his big noise maker on the ground until time for him to perform. Sam squinted at the drum and took careful aim as the ball came hurtling toward him.
The sphere hit the bull's-eye fair and square, bursting through the cover and lodging in the drum, which started down the ravine, the fielders hard on its heels. For a while it was an even race, and then the fielders began to gain, and would have eventually caught up with it but the fool drum found an old abandoned coal shaft, half full of water, and took a notion to go swimming. By the time the fielders got the ball and fired it to the pitcher Sam had scored 26½ runs and the Elmer crowd was carrying him about on their shoulders.
The base drummer sued for damage to his sounding tool, and the man who owned the land where the old mine was put in a claim for his share of the prize money. When Sam looked at his pedometer he found that he had run nearly two miles to win the game. The Goldsberry Rules are now copyrighted.
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