Interview With Jack Ghormley, age 93, as of December, 2002
Date: December 23, 2002, Springfield, Missouri
Roy Hulston owned the mill at this time (mid to late 1920s). He was a Frisco Railroad conductor. My mother had remarried to Ellis Garrett, my stepfather. They had moved to the area from Georgia when I was about age 13. I remember that Andy Kirby Sr. owned most of the land, the old Marcum place, where the mill sits today in the Park. We were sort of sharecroppers for Mr. Kirby and we lived just south of where the Park is now. We raised corn and hogs, and had a couple of milk cows. We used to plow the south field in the Park for Mr. Kirby. My mother used to fish in that larger creek that runs by the mill today. She would catch some of the nicest catfish there. Everybody helped everybody in those days.
As a boy, I used to set traps all around, even where the park is today. We were catching a lot of polecats, fox, squirrels and coons. We could usually get a dollar and fifty cents for a polecat hide. Once I caught a large polecat in a trap near the spring in the park. This one didn’t have the white stripes down its back, but just a white mark on its head. Of course it was still alive. If you could manage to jump on the thing and hold its tail down, it wouldn’t get you. I did my best, but missed this time. It got me right in the eyes. I ran over to the spring creek and washed my eyes out. I got six dollars for that one. I’d most often empty my traps in the afternoon and early evening, take the animals home, and skin them in the mornings before I went to school. By the time I got to school, my clothes often smelled of skunk. I went to school at Flat Creek, west of Willard. For a long time, we had an older school teacher. Then she left, and was replaced by a young teacher. One morning, this young teacher asked us what smelled so bad! Some of the other boys told her that we trapped polecats. She told us to go home and change clothes. We told her we didn’t have any other clothes.
We trapped as many as thirty squirrels a day sometimes. Many people didn’t eat squirrels because they didn’t think they would taste good. But they were actually quite good. After we skinned them, Mother would just put them all in a big pot of boiling water and make a stew.
I do remember there were three caves in the area of our farm. One was very near the spring in the park. I found a large rock and pushed it aside. I was able to get inside a room about as large as our living room in our home here.
I joined the U.S. Navy at age 15 in 1924. I served on the battleships U.S.S. Tennessee and U.S.S. Idaho. When I came out of the service, I returned to Dade County on the train. No one was waiting for me at the station in Everton, so I walked home. My dog met me about half-way there, so happy to see me.
I remember the mill very well. The Hughes lived by the mill and operated a sort of general store there. Mr. Hughes had two daughters, Virginia and Susie, both very attractive. They had groceries, overalls, shirts, shoes and the like. By myself, I would take a sack of corn by horseback to be ground there. I remember Mr. Hughes ran for a political office and won. Mr. Newkirk was the postmaster. In later years, I drove my old Star car. John Nixon ran the mill in about 1928-1929. During the Depression, you couldn’t sell corn for nothing.
We raised hogs. I remember Roy Hulston hauling a bunch of them to town for us, and we made about four dollars on the load. The banks were always willing to loan money for a farmer to raise hogs. Roosevelt had the farmers kill all their hogs at one point. I felt so badly about it since there were so many hungry people. I would take a wagon, with sideboards, loaded with corn to the mill, and traded it for a twenty-pound sack of flour. I do remember the sifters and old mill with stones.
At that time, the Model T Ford was a very popular car. It had a “lock-to-lock” steering wheel to prevent theft. One day, here came these guys to the mill in one of these Model Ts. Somehow the steering wheel got locked, and the car turned right up on its side between the mill and where the bridge is today. Well, some of we men just went over and tipped it back upright.
That reminds me. There used to be an old wooden (commercial) garage in Dadeville. I was there one time when these people came along in their Model T. Model Ts were known for their bad brakes. They couldn’t stop the car and drove right through the back wall of the garage, but no one was even hurt. The same kind of thing happened in a garage over in Everton at the east end of town near the bandstand. These guys were working on an old caterpillar tractor in the garage. No one there knew exactly how to operate this tractor. When the repairs were complete, one of the guys said he was sure he could back it out of the garage. You controlled the turning of the tractor with pedals. Well, this guy took out the whole wall of the garage!
Men used to meet at the mill, sometimes sat around and talked, and told tales. Some of them had signed their names at different places in the mill. It was a good place to fish. There was a widow who lived near the mill. She had a daughter who married a Mr. Poindexter. This daughter led singing there sometimes. One family had a quartet. Though I never saw him myself, I remember some people telling about a black man who did a lot of fishing down there. The people said he made good stew, and shared it with them. It was kind of a lively little place on Saturdays and Sundays. The Stumpffs also lived nearby.
This interview appeared in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader. It may also be found online at Missouri State University’s web site: Jack Ghormley Interview