Dorothy (Bennett) Bermond, Daughter of a Pioneer, What Life was Like for Womenfolk
Stories from Aunt Dorothy (Bennett) Bermond to David Bennett -January 1988
I have forgotten what Wilton (oldest son of Curtis) has on tape. He nearly lost his mind at some of the things his father never did tell.
I have retired now for the second time. I have begun to admit I am at that age. I found a black lady about 50 that may carry on my work, some are afraid of her. She has good references. She has moved here from Liberty. I think she is OK. I would not be afraid of having her. I went to Sunday School and early church by cab. I walked home, it is nearly a mile.
There were no road maps when I was born. But nobody was going any place. Occasionally a car would come up the road and stop to inquire if they were on the right direction to get to North Missouri. Dad would always say "watch for a red, white and blue telephone pole mark." It was very crudely painted about 3/4 up. That was called the airline. Why it was called the airline I do not know. The old telephone poles were put up by the farmers and replaced occasionally by them. Therefore the marks were few and far between.
I recall men stopping to inquire, and Dad would say, yes go straight on, this airline. I believe these people were headed for Stanberry, Albany, and for Iowa. This was very seldom.
One of the first cars in the area was a Hupp mobile, owned by Clarence Wells. The lights were as big as your head. He was a young man, the son of Jake Wells. On the farm where Mrs. Dean McCrea's parents lived. He dropped in one Sunday afternoon to visit and take us for a ride. We were frightened of the car.
We had another lady that came down the road about once a month. She wore a long streaming green veil, and a wide brimmed black silk hat. She also had a tan or black long coat called a duster. The veil was to hold the hat on and to draw attention. Her name was Mable Miller. She seemed to have more money than others. When we saw Mrs. Miller coming toward the north, we Bennett kids would run to the fence to see the car. You could see her approaching for a quarter of a mile, the cars were very slow and chugged along. We could see her green veil flying.
All the cars had to be started on the front by cranks on the lower front below the radiator. Therefore there were very few women drivers. Some ladies would go to places provided there was a man to crank the car so she could get home. Sometimes it took two people to get a car started.
I recall the first Model T, Dad would crank and Mom would manipulate the spark. As I recall the spark was on the left and the gas was a lever on the right on the steering wheel. A good many years later, batteries were installed. A great many arms were broken while turning the crank. They kicked back while turning.
The model T had 3 foot pedals in the floor boards. One was the break, one was the gear shift, and the middle one was the reverse gear. The radiator had to be drained at night or in freezing weather as there was no anti-freeze. A spare tire was on the back of the car. If it went flat the rubber tube had to be patched. A new tire cost $5.00. It was a must to have a tire pump along. The members of the family had to take turns at pumping up the tire if it went flat while out on the road. Gas was 8 to 10 cents per gallon.
To keep the rain out, we had side curtains made of black oil cloth with windows of isinglass. We tried so hard to keep it from breaking as it was folded under the back seat and when a rain came up we never knew if we should keep going to keep out of the mud and sliding in the ditch, or get wet putting the side curtains on. It was a task to put the chains on. The curtains were button down. We tikes could not go in mud. If we put the curtains on we would all jump out and get them from under the seat. We did not have drip dry clothes.
It always rained on the 4th of July. Union Star had picnics and Dad Bennett would assure we Bennett kids if we would wait until the mud settled, we would go. It lasted all day. It was down by the rail road tracks and depot in the city park. We spoke of the corn always being laid by, by the 4th of July. That was the last time it could be cultivated. It grew too fast after that. That was days before fertilizer, etc..
Andrew Bennett's corn always made over 100 bushels to the acre. He started early fall speaking for young strong men boys who needed cash to live on such as Lester Thompson, Estill and Robert Colville, Clark Washburn, Wilbur and Carl Simmons, a Hutchcraft boy, and Carl Jennings.
Dad never believed in fertilizer. His farm didn't need a boost. He said antibodies were nonsense and it came to pass our food did not have such in it.
Back to the 4th of July picnic. Our mother, Flora Bennett's parents had rented their farm and were living in Union Star Missouri. For years Dr. Rockholdt, an Osteopath doctor, lived in the house south of Union Star high school. Curtis and Aleen lived on the Inglis farm, and John was born there. Several 4th of July's we would all go to old Platte river beyond Whitesville. The women would take food and keep a fire going and fry fish as the men caught them by net. The catfish were delicious. We cooked them in old iron skillets and fried potatoes, the best I ever ate.
Each farmer was supposed to keep the road drug. My father has a drag made of two large heavy boards fastened with bolts and chains. Three horses pulled it. The boards stood on edge up and down. Not flatwise. There was a poll tax, $1.00 each man in the county. They could work it out by keeping the road in shape, replacing culverts, cleaning draining ditches, etc.. We had one neighbor who very poor and not a very big man, and he had very poor horses. Dad would call him every spring to see if he would join him and work on the road. Mother would always get a good dinner for them. We always ate at the table, and this man said grace, and was enjoying the dinner, and all at once he thought the small cream pitcher looked funny, and he wanted cream for his coffee and he said "pass the white duck". A neighbor lady was helping mother and thought it was very bad manners to speak at the table like that. Dad always saw that Albert's poll tax was worked out and reported to the Savannah Court house.
We always ate at the table, we did not have a patio. We always managed to have a table cloth. There were no paper napkins or paper towels. Sometimes tablecloths were made of chicken feed sacks. In the 30's people began to buy chicken feed in pretty sacks at the poultry house. It was inexpensive, but the sacks were used for house dresses, pillow cases, and poor Wilton, John, Bennett, and Ronald Wayne had rompers, overall shirts of such.
Flora Bennett my mother could make the best biscuits ever. She would fix breakfast for the boys corn huskers while they harnessed the horses getting ready to rush to the fields to pick corn. It was a challenge to see who come in at noon with the biggest lot of corn. A person could hear the corn striking the bump boards all morning for miles around. Dad could tell the amount of bushel of corn, the huskers were paid by the bushel. The boys that dad boarded suffered with sprained hands. Mother would use corn husker liniment at night on them and bandaged them at night. Once in a while they had to take days leave before they could continue. After it was all husked a big lot of hogs was were usually turned in to get any corn that might be wasted. We spoke of hogging it down. Some times the cattle was let in to eat.
When we had guests to feed we had to plan things and do things fast. We did not have ice back then.. Therefore our chickens were dressed and cooled in cold well water. Mother taught Jessie and I how to cut the chickens heads off with a sharp hatchet. We used a hedge stick for the butcher block. We were told to cut it well through so the chicken would bleed thoroughly and let them flop around a lot or the meat would be tough. We had two rat terriers that knew when we picked up the hatchet what was going on. We always rewarded the dogs afterwards, one with the feet and the other the head. The dogs never bothered the chickens which we let lay until we put the chickens in scalding water to remove the feathers. Then we sat on the back step and cut the chickens up.
The day the hogs were butchered was a big day. Dad was a perfectionist at butchering. Usually a neighbor came over to help. The throat was cut in a place so the hog would bleed well then it was pulled up into the big elm tree, dipped in scalding water and scrapped until all the old hair was gone. The fat was cut for lard and dad knew just how hot the make the water. The water boiled for a long time.
Dad had never butchered a beef until 1933. Wayne Bermond, his son-in-law was good at that. A big black steer was hung in the tree and skinned. Mother enjoyed the change. We were raised on pork and not a one had any health problems.
When Charles Bennett settled on Empire Prairie there were the Bullas, Bashors, and Bonhams. Darrel Guests Grandfather was a Bashor. Till the osage orange brush hedge got started and was woven hog tight the cattle and hogs were grazed and had to be branded. Grandpa Charles could not use a "B" for a brand. Too many B's. Charles had a brother Tom living there with him helping to build the first house, so he used the "T" brand. Jessie or someone in the family has the branding iron now.
We baked our bread until the 1920s or 1930s. The large cloth flour sacks were used for dish towels and mother made us girls under bloomers from them. Most of the sacks could be bleached with lye and home made soap made of grease and lye cooked in the back yard. Some labels were more resistant than others. I had Liberties Best and Pillsbury Best on my behind many a time.
We did not have store bought bread until the 1930s. We had the first sliced bought bread in the 40s. The steel was so scarce due to the war that the backers did not have slicers. It sold for 5 to 10 cents a loaf. In the 30s milk was 5 cents a quart, eggs 10 cents a dozen. I churned butter and took it to St. Joseph and earned 25 cents a pound. I had no ice but kept the butter in the well over night. People on the streets and friends bought it. I dressed big young chickens for 50 cents each and sold them in St. Joseph too.
The drought was so bad Wayne and I grew sorghum and stripped the cane and hauled it to the Amity mill and the put the sorghum in glass milk bottles and delivered it to friends and relatives in St. Joseph for 25 cents a quart. That was the first year of my marriage. That was during the grass hopper and chinch bug drought years. The grass hoppers ate the green beans and went into the soil and ate the carrots and the potatoes. Wayne and I had nothing to feed our pigs so we gave them away to a man that had some corn. We feared we would have to shoot the pigs. During the 1930s drought years, we were on a poor rented farm. I put salt in my bed so I could sleep. There were so many fleas in the dust outside.
Back to the days when I was 4 or 5 I went with my dad, Andrew, to the home Bennett farm on the on the spring wagon. My dad went there everyday to farm. Grandmother Bennett Susie helped Aunt Annie Troupe with her large family. Marie Pulley was the eldest grand daughter staying there a lot. Bill Bennett, another grandson, went to the farm with me one day. We had nothing to play with, not even a rock. It was a hot day, and we found it fun to play in the stock tank, the wind mill was pumping water. Bill fell in and got very wet. Marie and I laughed when Grandmother put one of Marie's dresses on him so she could hang his cloths to dry. Bill was the eldest son of Uncle Joe Bennett.
Bill Bennett, Marie Troupe Pulley and I were all cousins born in the first week of April.
When I was 4 or 5 we had a meteorite or something go across the sky. I heard it was the largest ever known It caught me at the 3 holer out house. I flew to mother and told her the sky was falling. The old telephone got very busy. Aunt Ada Bennett called mother and said it was the end of the world. She was Uncle Joe's wife. The sky was bright red and very bright. Words cannot describe it. It didn't last more than a few seconds. I have never experienced anything like it since. I was afraid to go back to the outhouse for a long time.
That spring-wagon that went from east to west, all over the country. Dad went to the old Frank Hammer farm for sand when building things like walks. When Mr. Hammer gave dad the sand we went back through the woods to the flat creek bed. It was a treat to see the woods, birds, squirrels and trees. We had none of these on our farm. Mr. Hammer had a long beard and I was afraid of him. His farm was north east of Prairie Flower school. I believe Mr. Hammer lived alone and years later they found him dead in the barn. Don't know if he fell and cows trampled him or what his fate was.
One time dad and I went to Cawood, near Barnard, Mo. to Mr. Stinson's farm and Sorghum mill. The cooking pots were in his back yard. I was so astonished to watch him stir the cane as he cooked it to make sorghum. Dad said Mr. Stinson was the best. I believed dad until Mr. Stinson turned over his pipe upside down and let the ashes fall in the kettle of syrup. Dad assured me that was why the sorghum was so good. Dad always had a dry sense of humor. Most of the time he was all business. The sorghum molasses was fine on mother's biscuits and in ginger bread. That is where the old timers got their calcium potassium and no pills were necessary.
Back to dads pranks. I was told when I was a baby dad pinned the tail of a hog he butchered on Curtis's teddy bear. Mother scolded him when Curtis cried. I maybe told the story of when dad opened a can of oysters and told us kids to stand back because they would kick.
I don't know if Wilton got on tape the story about old lady Brinsin who coaxed her hogs under the neighbor's fence so they would fatten on apples and Jessie, Curtis and I, along with the neighbor kids (the Mays kids) put holes in the pans where she poured the milk. We sat up in the tree and watched the milk run out. She lived in a little house north east of us on the Nodaway county line. Her brother was Frank Kelly. He stammered and when he came across north of our house with his wagon and very poor horses the Mays kids and us threw apples from the big apple farm at him to hear him stammer at us. My father never knew how ornery we were. I believe Wilton has that story and how we unraveled the rag rugs on top of her cellar. She wore a long dress and a bonnet.
Charles Bennett was a great scholar. He had no schooling except that he educated himself by reading. Same with Aunt Dolly Bennett Brown. She was a teacher at the Grout school. Aunt Dolly had only one pair of shoes. She carried and put them on after she reached school. Aunt Dolly has a large flat stone and is buried in the King City Cemetery. The school was located across the road from Wallace Grouch's farm now. It was thatch part way up. Pole across the top and slew dried grass across the top for a roof. The lower part dad told me was dried mud called grout. These modern days we use grout to fill in tiled walls. It is made of ground pulverized rocks.
I was very bothered one day when I was told we were going to debate at Garfield school. Which is the most important--wood or iron? My grandfather was getting old and blind and was getting ready to move to King City. He helped me one night to make some notes and gave me some points to think about. He told me not to read my notes and to get up and talk. He told me about how he was a member of a big debating team on Empire when he was a young man.
When Charles Bennett came to Missouri he bought some brush land at Flag Springs in order to get rocks to put under the house and barn he built. Flag Springs was a small village west of the south part of Empire. It was on a branch of the river and had a mill there. After we got the Model T dad would take me with him on Sundays and we would go to the hill off 5A (highway?) to see how the fence was and look at the trees. It looked like a mountain to me. It went straight up. Dad cautioned me not to get out of the car because the rocks and timber were full of rattle snakes. Dad or Grandpa Charles sold the hill about 1918. I don't know who would want it.
There was a bad tornado when I was about 4 years old. We went out one Easter Sunday to see the damage at Flag Springs. Every thing was wiped out. I recall a bath tub sitting alone. It was the first white enamel bath tub I had ever seen. Several people were killed in the tornado. We went out in the surrey hitched to two horses. That was when we lived in the first little home on the Gentry county line. My grandmother told me about a tornado that came across the big Culver farm when she was young.
My grandmother came to Missouri as a young widow from Kansas and worked in homes for room and board. She was a sister of Mary Wildish and stayed with her when unemployed. The Wildish farm joined the north side of the Bennett farm. Aunt Mary and Grandmother Susie's maiden name was Nugent. She met my grandfather Charles when he was a bachelor. He always said she was his child bride. Susie Bennett had a baby when she came to the Wildish home-Leroy McComb. He was born with club feet, but Grandpa Charles took him to a specialist in St. Joseph as soon as he married Grandmother, and had his feet corrected. That cost a lot in those days. The kids teased Uncle Roy on the way to Garfield school. One day Andrew slammed his dinner pail at one boy and cut his head wide open. Uncle Roy walked poorly but Dad was so strong he could help him.
There were a lot of uses for hedge or osage orange. It was good fuel but dangerous as it sparked profusely out the front of the stove. We used them as chopping blocks, door stops, and under the foundation since they did not rot quickly. Mother kept one or two small pieces on the heating stove all day and would wrap it in news paper to put in our bed at the foot to warm our feet. The bed rooms were so cold in the winters water would freeze.
A school friend of mine Jennie Shepard came home from a basket ball game one Friday to spend a week-end with me. She jumped in bed first and her feet felt a strange object at the foot of the bed (a bed warmer) and came with a scream. I forgot to tell Jennie mother always had the bed warm. We always replaced the hedge stick on the front room heater each morning so we would be ready for another cold night.
Back to old cars, Mr. Al Pierce had a 2 cylinder (?) I believe it was called a REO. (Though I believe this REO was electric?? It was back in 1914; it did not have very much power, it went chug chug. The Garfield school was just West of it. We school kids lined up the hedge balls across the road and it would stall. Francis Haskins Stout told me the Halloween pranksters put it in her Grandfathers pond. No wonder the old fellow got upset.
Francis Haskins Stout's Grandfather had the first nursery. The fir farm west of the Garfield school. Francis went to Garfield school as well as her sisters. She said transients walked down the road her folks always gave them a meal. One said to her father I was told to come on down the road you were good people that was after grace was said by her father. We had one come to our back door one time. We Bennett children were washing our rat terrier dog. We could not run and hide as we had so much soap on the dog. So mother said just keep on with the bath and I will get him a handout. I remember he said "Wash Dog". He must have been a foreigner.
We really did hide when wagons of gypsies came. This is not too often. We had one man that walked the country roads. He had beautiful pictures of nursery stock he sold. Dad nearly always bought a tree or two from him. The order was shipped by train to King City. There were no trees on the home Bennett farm when we moved there. The hedge trees were bought from Mr. James Guest senior. We would soak hedge apples in a wooden barrel all winter and as they swelled and burst open they would begin to send roots out of each seed. Then they were separated and each twig grow into a sapling and could be made into a tree. Grandpa Charles Bennett wove the young saplings across as they grew to make them hog tight. Our front lawn was all fenced hog tight. Most of the road sides in front of homes had a fence as people drove so much stock on the roads.
Ladies were never encouraged to go out around barns on account of the mean cattle, bulls, and mean hogs. But Jessie and I would take two wicker bushel baskets we kept on the back porch and make a survey as to if the coast was clear to get corn cobs. It took two bushels to make the cooking range hot enough to bake an angel food cake. This was usually done on a Saturday afternoon. There were lots of uses for corn cobs. We usually kept a can full standing in kerosene soaking close to the stove to light the fire in the morning. They were safe and would not flare up.
The following is from a newspaper clipping sent to me from a "local paper" (date and paper unknown):
Neighbor women helped with burial preparation
When I was very young, about 1909, we lived nine to 12 miles from Stanberry and King City, Mo. The roads were very bad, lots of mud and freezing rain. Bodies were prepared at home. One time the mortician could not get to a neighbor’s home and he instructed the neighbor women by phone to straighten the body of a small child while it was still warm.
A man delivered a casket by wagon one night while the roads were frozen. He told the women to put packing around the arms and legs, to keep it in place.
The mortician opened the lid of the casket after he met the wagon at the church for service and found the rags had bounced out everywhere.
There were no back hoes then. It took a crew of several strong and willing men to dig graves with a spade. My father rode a horse several miles at time when weather was bad and carried a spade to dig graves in our neighborhood graveyard.
Dorothy Bennett Bermond
The following clipping is not from Aunt Dorothy Bermond but describes the times very well. Again paper and date unknown:
Washdays carry special memories
I remember washdays when they were on Mondays. Tuesday were ironing days and felt so grown up when I learned to iron. I started with pillow cases and my dads handkerchiefs. I particularly remember the washdays on Mondays as it would take almost the entire day to get it done.
Besides the main machine, which consisted of the agitator to swish cloths around in, it also had a wringer to put them through to run into the first rinse tub. It would take so long to do the wash because at least once you had to stop and change the water in the machine and tubs.
Back then, you separated your cloths doing all the white things first, and the last thing was my dad’s overalls. I didn’t like the times in the winter when it was too cold to hang the wash on the line outside, and we had to hang them inside the house. They ended up all over the house.
It was so nice on wash days as we would strip our beds, and when we had washed the sheets, we’d hang them out side on the line, and they would smell so good when you put them back on the bed that same evening.
Dorothy L. Ramsey
STRAY CHICKEN COMES TO SUNDAY DINNER
St. Joseph (MO.) News Press, Friday, March 24,2000
By Dorothy Bennett Bermond Gower, MO.
When I married in 1931 my mother told me it was going to be rough. We were having a depression and a drought that would last for some time.
I finished my nurse’s training in St. Joseph and married my high school sweetheart, a farmer. We lived on rented farms. The ground was poor, and we dug poor wells. Grasshoppers and bugs took our crops. The animals we depended on for meat were poor, due to lack of feed.
My father was very fortunate to have some kind of a crop every year on his farm on Empire Prairie.
One evening, when visiting my parents, Mother suggested my husband and I drive up the road on the west side of the Bennett farm, as there was a big chicken that had migrated to the Northwest 40, and no one claimed him. He was roosting on top of four portable hog sheds.
The cornfield had corn on the ground. The hogs and chickens were doing well a long distance from the house and barn. They hardly knew what people were.
At dark, as my husband and I went in our home we stopped, and he walked across the 40 acres to a large Osage hedge and the hog sheds. He climbed on top of the hog house, grabbed the chicken and, on, boy, did he squawk. All the new mother hogs came out and were furious.
My husband did not return to the car, and I sat for an hour. He had to wait till the animals went back to sleep, or be eaten up. All that time, he was choking the rooster. On Sunday, we had a good, fat chicken and noodles.
The hogs grew up large and fat. My father received word from Andrew County officials that he was over his allotment. He would need to dispose of five. He could not give them to family members. I could have used one very well. He delivered five to a large family close by, then returned to Savannah, the county seat, and signed papers he had done such.
BACK TO STORIES