Curtis Bennett, Son of a Pioneer, An Educator and Farmer
Letter from Jessie Crawford to John Bennett: (Jessie is Curtis' oldest sister).
Nov 15, 1991
Dear John and Helen,
Once David said he knew practically nothing about his grand father (Curtis Bennett) and I offered to write something down for him. I have completed the article and thought I could send it to John first for his approval and corrections if necessary. Then I would like you to send it to David.
I had a nice letter from David not long ago. He does remarkably well.
Our weather looks snowy this morning. We need the moisture. Bennett called last evening. He had a birthday yesterday and we both forgot about it! His company had a cake for him he said. He really likes his work. Wanh and the girls will stay here until he is well settled. They have their house for sale but property is moving rather slowly. The girls do well in school and Wanh drives everywhere.
Uncle Wayne doesn't seem very strong. He goes to bed quite often.
Hope you are both fine.
Joseph Curtis Bennett was born August 22, 1905 on the eighty acre farm which his parents occupied at their marriage. His father was a vigorous young man of stocky build and ranged in weight around two hundred pounds. His mother was of slight build, ranging in weight around on hundred pounds. I, his sister, Jessie, was born seventeen months later, at the same location. Dorothy, another sister, was born, some two years later. Lois Bernadine, a third sister, was born about two years after Dorothy. Bernadine was never well and died at thirteen months. She was called a "blue baby", as she had poor heart valves and had some mongoloid characteristics.
Curtis was the first grandchild, both maternally and paternally. He was a beautiful baby with very fair skin, very blond curly hair and big blue eyes. As described by our mother he had baby-hood troubles, starting with a breach birth, at which time it was thought that neither the mother or baby could live through it. They both survived. Our mother thought maybe she had picked too many strawberries that summer and caused the poor birth position.
Curtis seemed to have stomach problems and as a baby didn't eat well. He was often ill. His first teeth did not appear at the normal time and when he was able to digest meat our mother ground it in a small food grinder for him. At the normal walking time he did not get on his feet and do well. Our parents hired women at times because the need for care was very great. A registered nurse was kept in the home for a time to help out. Our mother said that Curtis looked so bad in some of his illnesses that visitors would leave the house crying. His intellect was so evident and his body doing so poorly.
Because Curtis did not walk at the normal walking time he had to be lifted and assisted much in locomotion. As Curtis developed, it became evident that his back had pain in it and his legs ached. By the time Curtis was six years old, he had a distinct limp. Curtis often cried at night with back aches and our parents spent time rubbing his back and legs. Mentally he was precocious and took an interest in things beyond his age level.
Curtis started the first grade at the Garfield County School, a one room school house. It so happened that the teacher, Eva Rogers, lived a short distance from our farm house. Miss Rogers drove a one horse buggy and would take Curtis to school with her as she passed our farm on the way. He did well with school work but was lame enough that some situations were difficult for him.
As I recall, Miss Rogers, did not teach more than one term which meant that our parents had to get Curtis to school by some other means. They thought it might help him if they sent me to school with him. I don't remember it very well, but I do recall that I didn't do well and by agreement between my parents and the teacher, I was taken out of school.
To help explain the school situation I will relate that we lived two and one-half miles from the school. This was not our district but by permission from the school board were allowed to attend the Garfield school. Our home was in Gentry County, north of the ancestral Bennett home, where our Grandparents, Charles and Susannah Bennett, lived with our younger aunts and uncles. When our father married our mother, Flora, he was given the eighty acres by his father, This eighty acres was about three miles north of our grandfathers home, located at the meeting corners if Gentry, Andrew, and Nodaway counties. We lived in the Prairie Flower district. Our parents preferred to send us to the Garfield School, since our father farmed, along with his brother, Joe (Joseph), much of their father's land and traveled morning and evening with their horses and farming implements down the dirt road which led almost to the door of the Garfield school house. Much of the time we children could ride in the wagon with our father on our way to school and also on the return home.
We were fortunate in having a trusted dappled gray colt named Dexter grow up with us. Dexter trotted very fast but had more than good horse sense. Curtis must have been eleven years old when he learned to drive Dexter hooked to a single buggy to school with Dorothy and I riding along. (I finally entered school and did well enough).
On Sunday, our father would saddle and bridle Dexter, put Curtis in the saddle and thus he first attended Sunday School at Star Chapel Church. His legs were too short to reach the stirrups but he was safe because of the fine disposition of the horse. When Curtis left Star Chapel to return home on of the men at church would lift him into the saddle and he rode safely home.
Curtis was different as a growing child because he was disinclined to enter any verbal squabble which might occur and if he felt that any disagreement was brewing during play he quietly left the group and found something else to do. He could not always climb or vault fences as easily as most children his age. In the country school by age eleven or twelve Curtis played a simple game of baseball, learned to "knock flies" and entered other running games. Curtis read more widely than his class mates and made much use of the small school library. To graduate from the eighth grade the students were required to pass a written examination. Curtis ranked highest in Andrew County on this examination and qualified for a scholarship to Savannah High School. Savannah was such a long distance from our farm that it was not feasible for Curtis to enter that high school. In those days not all country children went to high school. Curtis was uncertain about entering high school and elected to return to Garfield School for an additional term for post graduate work. This enabled me to graduate at the end of his last term and we both entered King City High School at the same time.
When Curtis was nine years old it was determined that he should have his tonsils and adenoids removed. This was done in a hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri. After the surgery, it was noticed by our parents that Curtis seemed to grow better. Curtis still limped and had some back problems but said very little about his discomfort. There were times when we walked the two and one half miles to the country school and back. Curtis must have been more tired than he ever mentioned.
After the tonsil and adenoid surgery, Curtis developed normally with good permanent teeth and no more digestive troubles. He continued to have the back and leg trouble. Curtis had a serious case of ptomaine poisoning in early childhood. He also had German measles, red measles, and chicken pox. Curtis never did have scarlet fever when Dorothy and I had it.
Curtis entered King City High School in 1921 and graduated in 1925. We lived six and one half miles from King City. We drove a buggy with Dexter hitched at times. We also drove the family car, a Ford. Sometimes we would stay in town with our Grandmother Bennett.
Scholastically Curtis did very well in high school. He studied vocational agriculture and also the teacher training program offered. In February 1923, the grade school building burned. Agriculture was taught in this building and in the fire Curtis lost a valuable hog feeder that he was making. Also in 1923, Curtis served on a stock judging team along with two other high school boys. A Pig and Calf Show was held in King City in September. In a contest of stock judging the King City team won first place over other high school stock judging teams in Northwest Missouri. The prize that they won was a 14 inch silver trophy.
Curtis, along with another high school student, started a debating team in the Northwest Missouri Debating League. In the one debate they had, as I recall, they lost. Debating was a fledgling activity in the high schools and the King City High School did not continue debating seriously.
Curtis had a prominent part in a play when he was a senior. He took the part as a chorus person in an operetta. Curtis went out for basketball for a short time but, I believe, he found that it was too difficult without two good legs, so he dropped out. Curtis served as treasurer of the high school finance board. He was president of the senior class in 1924/25.
Upon graduation the faculty was to make a decision as to which student would be valedictorian and which would be salutatorian. Our parents were called in to have a conference with the faculty. There was a problem. The agriculture teacher had made a plan of grading in his department by which he would not give any E's, the highest grade. Curtis had spent two schools terms in agriculture. The faculty felt that most likely Curtis was the highest ranking student but paper recording indicated that he could not qualify for valedictorian, so he was chosen as salutatorian. Our parents understood that the faculty revealed this in confidence, so they never made any protests.
During his early teen years Curtis was elected superintendent of Star Chapel Sunday School and had many consecutive terms, even into adulthood. Our parents moved to Charles Bennett's homestead about 1919. Living on the homestead put us closer to church and there was not much hardship to get there. Curtis was a regular attendant at Sunday school and church.
Upon graduation from high school (Dorothy was still in high school) our family attended the Missouri State Fair at Sedalia in the fall of 1925. We drove the Ford and rented a residential tent and stayed in Tent City on the fairgrounds. This was the biggest trip Curtis had ever taken up to this time.
Because he had taken the Teachers Training course in high school, Curtis held a teacher's certificate but he chose to continue farming with our father.
In the fall and winter of 1926 and 1927 Curtis attended the Maryville State College completing two semester's work. If I remember correctly, he did the same type of work in the fall and winter of 1927 and 1928. To help pay the expenses Curtis cared for the furnace of two ladies who were college professors. He taught at White Lily School in 1928 and 1929 following my two terms of teaching in that school. White Lily was twenty three miles north of Maysville, near the Iowa state line. I believe Curtis did not care for teaching. During his teaching he was unfortunate in having a bad case of eczema (??) which covered one side of his face.
Curtis returned to the home farm and continued there from 1929 to 1933 as a single man. This was during the Great Depression and farming was not encouraging. Curtis continued Sunday school and church work and through attendance at meetings of this work with other communities he met Aleen Smith. Aleen taught in rural schools and the school at Rea, Missouri. This developed into a steady courtship and Curtis and Aleen were married on 12 May 1934. They were married at her parent's (Orville and Edna Smith) home, south of Rosendale, with two attendants, Robert Smith and myself.
The house where our parents lived was large. Curtis and Aleen lived there. The parlor became their living room, the spare bedroom became their kitchen and Curtis's long-time bedroom upstairs was their bedroom.
At this home, on a hot June day, Curtis and Aleen's first child, Wilton, was born. This was soon after our grandparents, John and Saphrona Inglis died. Their farm, about three miles south of the Bennett home, became an estate and was held by the heirs, one of which was our mother. Curtis and Aleen rented the farm and moved to that place. The house was the one in which our grandparents, Saphrona and John Inglis had raised their family. It had four rooms and a closed back porch and two rooms upstairs. It had no modern convinces like running water or a bathroom. There was a cistern by the back door, a cement walk leading to a good cave (to store food) and a large wash house which made good storage also. Our grandmother's lilacs and roses were still there.
Still standing was our great-grandparents house and the barn, both of which were somewhat further down the road, the house being across the lane on the north. A well at this home furnished good water which was carried to the John Inglis home. No one had lived in the house for a long time. This farm was in De Kalb County, Missouri. Union Star was the town where most things were bought.
In this home, one August night in 1939, the second son, John was born. Curtis hired my husband Wayne, and myself to help in harvesting and house keeping, since we were free of school duties during August. Grandmother Smith attended the new baby and mother, and stayed on 24 hour duty for a good length of time.
John was a large baby weighing more than nine pounds and he did well. Wilton also was healthy and very active. Perhaps something like a year afterward, Aleen, the mother developed some trouble which happens to nursing mothers, as I understood it. She had fever and great pain. This involved doctoring and watchful care as she could not be responsible for timing pain pills. After a time Aleen recovered well.
In about 1941, the Ed and May Bottorff farm was for sale. This eighty acres joined Curtis's parents' farm on the east side, in Gentry County. Curtis and Aleen bought this farm and moved there. Because of the lame leg, Curtis had difficulty in raising cattle as our father had. Curtis did raise hogs and sheep. Later he decided to produce eggs on a large scale. He and Aleen remodeled Ed Battorff's threshing machine shelter barn into a hen house. They built a large egg-laying house and a work place which also had a cool-room for the eggs. At greatest production they had more than four thousand laying hens. They kept this going a great many years.
Also, they planted corn and soy beans. However, this involved plowing and using a tractor. Riding long hours became increasingly harder for Curtis, with pain in his back and the lame leg. Long after it happened, Curtis told of being struck in the back by a charging ram. He was thrown to the ground in a feed lot but managed to get up and started to climb up on the fence where upon the ram charged and struck Curtis in the back again, the force of which threw him over the fence. The result was back pain which sometimes was so bad that it caused Curtis to get immediately on the ground.
During these farming years Curtis carried on church and Sunday School work, attended Hour of Power, a men's religious prayer time in King City, and was a member of the Farm Bureau. He sang a good deal with the men in the Star Chapel church choir.
At this time I will pause to say that at about nine or ten years of age, Curtis, along with me, took piano lessons from a teacher who lived in the country. We both rode our horse Dexter to the teacher's home. Curtis continued several years and had a good sense of music. After some instruction, our teacher trained us to play piano duets. Curtis always took the base part and was good at counting and keeping time correct. He seldom stumbled when we played duets, but sometimes I did. Curtis would point out how to get started again, and never grumbled because I didn't do well.
Also, at this time I feel that I should give you my personal opinion about Curtis' back and leg trouble. As I explained his birth was in the breach position and involved time, pain, and uncertainty for everyone. Medical help was at least ten miles in any direction from the home. I know nothing of the time the doctor arrived, or what method he used. I do know that he must have used all the skill and instruments he had to make a home delivery in a case he almost lost. By making unusual effort it seems that the baby must have been injured in the back severely enough to partially cut off blood flow and good nerve action into the back and one leg. When Curtis was approximately seventy years old, he was ill, alone in his farm house, bedridden, and I was with him. I had a good chance to see his leg which some doctors called fore shortened. It was a well developed leg, bonewise, with a well developed foot. But, the only muscle evident at all was a small portion, about the size of a small fist, immediately below the knee, on the back. The leg had good bone, good skin, good color, but no muscle, just bone leading down to the foot. Curtis claimed that this foot, because of a shoe fitting, was smaller than the other. This was not evident to the eye.
The above appraisal is strictly my own. No other family member ever attempted to analyze the trouble in my presence. In those days parents were often advised that children would "grow out of it". The doctor who did the delivery may have suspicioned that he caused an injury, but didn't like to say so. Therapy was unknown in those days. Little was known of nerve trouble in the back. Curtis's young parents were much occupied with his stomach sickness and eating problems. They probably didn't realize that he wouldn't walk well until it was too late to repair the damage that was done.
Curtis never had a disease which would have caused the trouble. Near his teen years he also compensated for the short leg by having the heal raised on that shoe.
Another difficulty which he endured patiently was a dry skin, most evident on his hands and feet. The skin would thicken, become dry, and crack open. This was painful when using his hands in work. Sometimes bleeding occurred from the cracks. It was a condition hard to treat and remained with him into retirement years.
Curtis and Aleen made sure that their two boys, John and Wilton, completed high school in King City. Wilton entered the University of Missouri on the completion of high school, John did likewise. The farm work required constant duties and husband and wife worked hard. They planted interesting trees and kept a beautiful lawn of bluegrass. They did a lot of gardening in the summer time. They improved the house by removing some walls and building on a kitchen, they built in a bathroom, installed running water and electrical central heat. Central heat required complete insulation in the walls, floors, and ceilings. They closed the outer stairway to the partial basement and used only the inside stairs to the basement.
The smoke house, originally used for smoking meat, was used by the family for storing coal and as a wash house. It stood in the back yard, and was moved to a northwest location near the house and converted into a garage. The barn which was old, remained in original its condition and was used at times for live stock, storage for hay and farm equipment.
Aleen developed some arthritis and went to see a doctor in St. Joseph. She often took her mother with her as her mother saw the same physician too. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were both growing older. Their son, Robert, and his wife lived in Chicago.
Curtis's mother, Flora Bennett, was developing heart trouble. His father, Andrew, remained strong and healthy.
It was near the year 1948 when Aleen had health problems which seemed to center in the abdomen. She entered the hospital at Maryville and had rather extensive surgery which seemed to be of cancerous nature. Our sister Dorothy, a registered nurse, was with her. Aleen recovered quite well.
[At this juncture of my writing I entered the hospital for heart surgery. The ensuing account may be more brief. It has been three years since I began this story about my brother .--Jessie Crawford]
But Aleen had another bout with cancer and was hospitalized in a St. Joseph hospital. Despite the doctor's recommendation that she remain longer, Aleen went home and began inside house work to make Curtis more comfortable when her time came to die. She was rather active for eleven months. Then she was hospitalized in the hospital in Albany. The cancer trouble was serious and she died in June, 1970.
Curtis had grown bent and slender with grief and care. He carried on alone. Curtis became ill with an unusually serious case of the shingles on the side of his face, ear, and eye. Dr. Barnes in King City was his doctor. Curtis drove his car to see the doctor but became so weak that he went to bed. I stayed with him for eight days hoping each day that the shingles would "run their course" as the older people used to say. Curtis was given a sedative which helped some. He finally entered the Missouri Methodist Hospital in St. Joseph. I stayed another eight days.
Prior to this incident with the shingles Curtis took a tour of England, Switzerland, and Germany. His son, John, and family lived in Germany with the military service so Curtis was able to visit with them on his tour. On this tour Curtis became acquainted with a widow, Marguerite Porter, of Kansas City. They enjoyed each others company and often did things together. While Curtis was confined with the shingles, I noticed that he was getting friendly letters from Marguerite.
Curtis fell one day while at the hospital and hurt his back. X-rays were taken and the doctors declared that there was no injury. But with the pain that he had, I knew that he had cracked a vertebrae. Finally one day when his minister was with him at the hospital, Curtis decided to go to the King City Manor to recover. An ambulance was called and Curtis had a bumpy ride on the country roads, an ambulance can be very uncomfortable. At King City Manor, Curtis explained how he got on his feet. The first day he took one step. The next day two steps and so on until he could walk again. Soon Curtis was able to return to his country home again.
Soon afterwards Curtis planned to have a farm sale and arranged to move into an apartment in Kansas City. He continued to look in on our father and Mr. and Mrs. Smith who were failing.
Curtis often made the trip into Kansas City to see Marguerite. They enjoyed programs at the Starlight Theater. The sale of the farmland and household goods was completed Curtis moved into a nice two bedroom apartment in Kansas City. He continued to see Marguerite. On one occasion she was ill and confined to her room in her apartment. Curtis stayed with her there, never changing his cloths, for several days and nights.
At last Curtis and Marguerite decided to get married and we were all invited. The ceremony was on April 20, 1980. It was a nice wedding and the guests were given a wonderful evening at a special restaurant called Strouds. But they were incompatible and did not enjoy one another.
Curtis seemed to get slower and slower and finally entered the North Kansas City Hospital with heart trouble. Our sister, Dorothy, was living not far from the hospital and daily kept caring for his needs. She found that when he could eat nothing else that he could eat watermelon and so the hospital kept this up until his very last days when they could get it no more. All along it seemed that he was losing his sight. I was at our King City apartment when Dorothy called to tell me that Curtis had died in the night of November 27, 1984. The next morning I told our father who was at the King City Manor that Curtis was gone. It was not an easy after breakfast message to give to a one-hundred and one year old man.
The funeral was held in King City at the Clark Funeral Home. Marguerite was there and also her two children, James Porter and Linda Ross, each coming a great distance. Curtis was buried beside his first wife, Aleen, and among the family members who had gone on before.
Note: Jessie (Bennett) Crawford passed away in Salt Lake City, Utah on 15 January 2000. She was buried in Wichita Kansas by her husband, Wayne
Article from the Purina Checkerboard Square Trade Paper
THEY NETTED TWO DOLLARS PER LAYER LAST YEAR
"It would take a lot of farming to bring in money like that," says Missourian J.C. Bennett.
What he refers to is the $21,379.67 gross income and the approximately $2.00 per bird net return on his poultry operation in 1961.
The Bennetts have always kept a lot of chickens on their farm near Rea, in Northwestern Missouri. However, four years ago with their two sons raised, they decided to take life a little easier and cut down on the crops and build an efficient layer operation that would furnish them a comfortable living.
"It looked like the cage system would be the modern, efficient way to produce quality eggs," declared J.C. "We built a 2,250 bird capacity cage house with bulk and feeding facilities." He also remodeled an old threshing machine shed and uses the floor plan on approximately 1,500 layers.
Mr. Bennett doesn't think it is fair to compare the two systems of his farm because of the difference in size of the operations. He does, however, point out that he had discounted the use of the automatic feeders. "Automatic feeders are probably the thing in real large operations where labor is a problem. But, I had so much mechanical trouble, I found I would just as soon feed them by hand. Besides, feeding them by hand gives me a better opportunity to keep close watch over the birds," the tall trim Missourian added.
To maintain egg quality, the Bennetts have built a new egg room complete with cooling facilities. Mrs. Bennett handles this department pretty much by herself. The eggs are picked up at the farm.
Other buildings on the farm have been converted to brooding and breeding replacements. They put down well-bred chicks and grow them out on the Purina Program.
A frequent visitor to the Bennett Farm is their Checkerboard Serviceman, Herb Roup of Rea Grain and Feed Company.
"Herb is about the same age as our boys," said Mrs. Bennett, "And we enjoy having him call on us."
"We certainly appreciate the help and suggestions he has offered to improve our poultry operation, too," J.C. added.
Speaking of poultry as a part of the farming operation, Mr. Bennett had this to say: "You have to have the right kind of temperament to raise chickens. I know a lot of folks who don't like 'em...don't want a chicken on the place and claim it is because there is no money in them. Mrs. Bennett and I like chickens and they have done well by us...some years better than others...but at our age, it is better than trying to farm a lot of acres."
Yes, on 80 acres, with the help of a few cows and sheep along with their poultry operation, the Bennetts make an independent, comfortable living. Both of them enjoy keeping active doing something they enjoy in the familiar farm community surroundings.
No wonder they say, "Poultry raising has been good for us."
The following article (paper and day unknown) was printed in December 1971:
Gentry Farm Bureau President Attending National Meeting in Chicago
One Gentry county farmer is part of some 200 Missouri Farm Bureau members attending the 1971 annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation this week in Chicago. Gentry county Farm Bureau president, J.C. Bennett of R.R. 1, King City left Sunday for the convention that continued through Thursday.
Missouri farm Bureau president C.R. "Dick" Johnston, as a member of the AFBF board of directors, spent Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 studying recommendations from the State Farm Bureaus. AFBF resolutions, based on these recommendation, were presented to voting delegates representing two-million members for discussion and adoption. Johnston reports issues include farmer marketing-bargaining, farm labor, and ag. exports.
In addition to the general sessions of the convention, Mr. Bennett attended special conferences on dairying, field crops, livestock and horticulture. Interest was high in the natural resources conference where George Smith of the University of Missouri's Water Resources Research Center addressed the national group.
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