Excerpts transcribed by: Melody Beery

A short narrative history of Martinsville and Dallas Township, Missouri

Martinsville is a small town located in the center of Dallas Township, Harrison County, Missouri.  It is one of the thousands of small midwestern towns that were at their best from about 1890 to 1915.  Martinsville was located in 1856 by Willis Loy.  The following year he had a plat of 16 lots surveyed and recorded under the name of Middleton.  In March, 1872, the village was re-surveyed for Ed Baldwin, W.W. Jesse, W.R. Premer, W.S. Rucker, W.P. Bishop, George W. House, and Solon Butler and the name was changed to Martinsville.  In 1891 the village was incorporated and by 1900 it had a population of a little over 200.

Main Street from east to west if five blocks long and ends in a dead end, but along this street were business places that served the countryside for miles around with about everything needed.   Ben Kidwell and Jesse Taylor operated general stores and Caleb Clevenger had a grocery store.  The post office was established in February, 1868 with W.L. Rucker as the first postmaster.  Dr. Reynolds had an office and a drug store.  Letch Magee had an implement store; Flora Crotts a millinery shop and also taught music.  Mr. Edson had a grist mill and feed store.  Modern Woodmen, Knights of Pythias and Independent Order of Odd Fellows all had lodges.  Mr. Dickinson had a harness shop.  There was a photo gallery, two barber shops where you could get a shave and a haircut for two bits, two resturants with 5 cent coffee, hamburgers and pop.  "Dad" Sanders had a hotel and livery barn.  There were an undertaker, two produce houses, two blacksmith shops and a part time dentist.  Martinsville had a park with a bandstand where a brass bank played in the summertime.  This band was made up of town and country members and always played at he Fourth of July celebrations which were the entertainment highlight of the summer. 

When Martinsville was founded, religious services were held in the homes.  In 1870 a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation was formed and in 1872 the church building was constructed.  At about the same time the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations joined together and built a church building which they shared.  Later, around 1900, the Methodist erected the present structure which is used today.

Around 1904 or 1905 a telephone system was installed in this area.  It was crude compared to the system we have today, but it was a wonderful help.  There were as many as 16 telephones on each line with a central office at Martinsville and one at Washington Center at the other end.  The businessmen and farmers needed a bank so a charter was secured, shares were sold, a building was built and soon a bank was open for business.  Two rural routes were formed when the Rural Free Delivery was established by the Post Office Department.  Most people started taking daily newspapers and everything looked rosy.  But then it happened.  The farms needed the small towns and the small towns needed the farms, but the small farmers began selling out to the larger ones.  With the coming of better roads and automobiles travel became much easier.  The young people and some of the older ones began moving on to "greener pastures"  That left empty farm houses by the hundreds and many small towns have disappeared completely.  Martinsville has managed to survive to the Bicentennial.

Now our attention turns to Dallas Township.   In 1900 the farms were small and the families usually large.  Most people were poor, but they didn't know it and so they were usually happy.  Most of the farms at that time varied from 10 to 80 acres.  A quarter section was a large farm.  Hogs were raised for meat and lard, a few cows were kept for milk and butter and for calves to sell in the fall, a flock of chickens for eggs and old hen and dumplings, sheep for wool and lambs, a few swarms of bees, an apple orchard and a grape arbor, a flock of Turkeys for the Thanksgiving market, geese and ducks for meat and feathers, a field of white corn for cornmeal, a patch of sorghum cane for molasses, and a large vegetable garden or "truck patch".  This was the way the small farmer lived at the turn of the century.  Ten dollars would pay the so-called energy expense for a year.  That would be for kerosene for lamps and lanterns.  The merchant would fill your can every Saturday and stick a small potato on the end of the spout so it wouldn't splash out on the way home.  Fuel was free if you cut your own wood for the heating stoves and picked up corn cobs from the hog lot and the horse troughs for the cook stove.  If you doubt that the population of the rural area has dwindled, just look at an 1890 atlas and compare it with the figures today.

A return to the farm is underway, but the rural areas will never again be as populous as they once were.  We never had many hitch hikers in this area when I was a boy, but dozens of men were on the roads in the summertime and they made better time on foot than hitching a ride on wagons.  My Grandfather Mock never turned a man down if he wanted a meal and a place to sleep.  He would loan him a horse blanket and a place in the hay barn for a bed.  Most would stay one night and be on their way the next morning, but I remember three of them that made return visits.

One was a man who made trips from south to north each spring and sheared sheep on the way.  He could shear 100 head in a day without any help.  He would pocket his five dollars and move on.

Old Dudley came one day driving a large team of oxen hitched to a cart.  He liked the way of life at Grandfather Mocks so well he stayed all winter.  He paid his way by cutting wood and keeping the fires going.  One winter he failed to show up.  Who knows what happened to him?

The one I remember best was "Nigger Ben".  My Grandfather met him sometime during the Civil War.   His name was Benjamin Williams, but he requested that he be called "Nigger Ben", and that was the name he always went by.  He came north during the summer.  All he owned was a horse and saddle, a long barreled muzzle loading shot gun, a roll of bedding and a few articles of clothing tied back of the saddle and 10 or 12 hounds.  I heard him tell how his hounds would catch a coyote.  He had two greyhounds, one bulldog crossed with a bloodhound and the others were common hounds.  If the coyote was in sight he would turn the greyhounds loose.  If they lost it, he would turn the other hounds on the track and when they would catch up with the coyote the bulldog crossed with the bloodhound would polish off the coyote.

The country schools are worth remembering.  Dallas Township supported seven schools; White Fawn, Mt. Tabor or Buttermilk, Martinsville, High Point, Crystal Lake (usually called Frog Pond), White Cloud, and College Corner.  they were placed so most pupils had less than twon and one half miles to walk to school.  Almost all teachers were men in the early days and most of them believed if you spared the rod you spoiled the child, and most parents thought the same way.  Many of the parents told their children, "If you get a lick'n at school, you;ll get another one when you get home."  So not many times would punishment be reported unless some blabbermouth would tell.   Sometimes as many as 65 pupils would attend one school.  The teacher would have classes in all eight grades. 

Most farmers raised some sorghum cane for molasses.  It had to have the leaves stripped off, the heads cut off, then cut and hauled to the mill.  this involved a great amount of hand labor.  At the mill the juice would be squeezed from the stalks by running them through rollers turned by a horse going round and round.  Mills were everywhere.  There were three kinds; clean, dirty and awful.  A clean mill, properly operated, would turn out a clear golden colored molasses good enough for anyone to eat on corn bread or biscuits.  The other turned out different shades of black.   One of the dirty mills operated near our house.  An old man and two boys operated it.  The old man would be stirring the juice paddle and if the horse slowed down he would whack him across the rump with the paddle and go back to stirring again. When the three would go in for dinner they would put their cuds of "long green" tobacco on the window sill and after dinner they would chew them again.  No waste, and they raised their own!  Many families started the winter with a 50 gallon barrel of molasses.   It seemed like everything was stored in 50 gallon barrels.  Some large families made kraut by placing heads of cabbage in the barrel and chopping it with a spade and leaving it there to ferment.  They would use it that way all winter. 

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