THE CHESHIRES, EARLY PIONEERS IN CALDWELL COUNTY
Narrator: J.R. Cheshire, 88, of Hamilton
James Riley Cheshire was born Jan. 3rd, 1847 in Jefferson County, East Tennessee. He came with his family to Caldwell County on the 17th day of Oct. 1857, locating in the Cottonwood District, one and one-half miles northwest of what is now Polo. He started to school there in that district.
After living there three or four years, the family moved about ten miles east. They rented a farm on Crabapple Creek owned by Wm. Baker. Most of Mr. Baker's boys had gone to Ray County to join the Rebel forces, for these were Civil War days, and Mr. Baker had moved from his farm to an adjoining farm belonging to his son-in-law. So, the Cheshires moved to the Baker place which had a big log house.
Mr. Cheshire, although only 14 years old, can remember very vividly the tragedies occurring in their neighborhood. He saw one of the Baker boys and Mr. Ritchie, a brother-in-law, soon after they had been shot by the Union soldiers. This happened just a half mile from his home. These men were moved to the Cheshire home and prepared for burial. Just as the men were being placed in their coffins for burial, the militia came but they did not molest the bodies. The Cheshires, taking no part in the war, but living in that particular section, were suspected and their house was searched several times for fire arms and Rebel soldiers. Mr. Cheshire saw the old man Baker (owner of their home) marched into the timber and heard the three shots which were fired into him. Soon as the militia had ridden on, he and his sister, five years old, ran to the old man and spent several hours guarding him, (for in those days the hogs had free range, there were no fences) until word could be sent to the coffin maker and they could get help to move him. It took a half day to make a coffin and it was not started until after the death occurred. The hatred against the Bakers was so great that the Kingston militia decided to burn all their property, so the Cheshires were ordered to remove their goods from the house, and it was set on fire. Having only one wagon and team, Mr. Cheshire's father borrowed a yoke of oxen and wagon from a neighbor and moved the family back to Cottonwood. Because an older man would be suspected of carrying news into the Baker boy's community, Mr. Cheshire, then 15, was sent to return the wagon and oxen. He had no trouble making the trip over to the old home but on the return trip, as he walked up on the top of a hill, he was spied by a troop of soldiers. They rode up to him and although he explained to them why he was there, they did not believe him and cursed him. About that time, a young man who belonged to the Knoxville militia rode up and knowing him, befriended him. Mr. Cheshire says those were hair-raising experiences.
When Mr. Cheshire was seventeen, some officers came to their farm and demanded, at the point of a gun, that he enlist in the Union Army. This he refused to do and told them to go on and shoot him but when they found they could not scare him they went their way.
A neighbor, moving to Nebraska, asked Mr. Cheshire to drive his cattle through, so he did. He worked at a saw-mill in Nebraska until spring, then started home. The trip from Omaha to St. Joseph, costing $8.00, was made by boat on the Missouri River, then from St. Joseph to Hamilton on the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad and from Hamilton he took the "Green Stage," a stage coach operated by Judge Green of Gallatin. Mr. Cheshire said the roads were heavy with mud and the stage was so loaded that the men had to ride on top with the grips. It was necessary for them to get off and walk up each hill. He walked at least half the way to Kingston. The price of the ticket from Hamilton to Kingston was $1.00.
Mr. Cheshire farmed in the summer and did carpenter work in the winter. He helped to build the first buildings in Polo, working on the first business house there. He built several homes and barns. He had a little money, a team and some implements, so he rented a farm. He married Harriet Ann Hill in 1876. She was the daughter of Rev. W.R. Hill, an early pioneer Baptist minister, who helped in organizing the Missouri Baptist General Association on Aug. 27, 1834. Soon, Mr. Cheshire bought a 40 acre tract and built a small house. They moved into the house on Dec. 11th and during the night there was a twelve inch snow. He had no barn yet and it was a difficult task to get enough corn from the field to feed his stock.
It was customary to turn all the sheep in the country out on range in the spring. Each owner using his own brand on the ear of his sheep. By fall, there would often be one thousand sheep to be brought in. The owners would set a date to meet and pick out their own sheep. Often times there would be a lot of sheep unclaimed and these would continue to graze until cold weather. When the sheep got cold, they would hunt shelter and the farmers would take them in, reporting that he had so many strays. It has been known that some greedy farmers would go to the farmers reporting stray sheep and claim them when he knew they were not his.
Mr. Cheshire sold his improved 40 acres and bought 160 acres, partly improved. As soon as he was able, he bought 80 acres more. All this time, he was continuing his carpenter trade. With a partner, he was making coffins. He was the first person in the county to make a "flat top coffin." It made a big hit with the people and this style was used afterward instead of the rounded tops formerly used. These coffins were of hard wood, nicely finished and varnished and lines. They sold for about $5.00 or $6.00.
Mr. Cheshire lived on his farm until he retired and moved, with his wife and two daughters, to Hamilton about twenty-three years ago.
Kingston was the county seat when he first moved to the county, and it was the largest town in the county.
The first plows that Mr. Cheshire used were single shovel plows drawn by one horse. He bought his first double shovel plow in 1871 against his father's wishes. He traded a cow for his first cultivator.
Mr. Cheshire's mother made all the clothes from sheep's wool and cotton grown on their farm. She made a suit for him which was a beauty and wore for many years. The last pair of boots that he bought were made by Henry Murphy of Polo. These boots were high heeled and were decorated around the top. They cost $8.00 and Mr. Cheshire wore them several years for Sunday before taking them for every day use.
Sammie Mathews, a fast friend of the Cheshire family, owned the first carriage in the county. The Mathews were very wealthy and dressed their negro slaves better than most white people could afford to dress. Every Sunday they could be found at the Presbyterian Church at Mirabile, Mr. Mathews, his family and all the slaves. Mr. Mathews built a brick hotel at Cameron in 1864 (now the "Cameron Hotel") and the Cheshires visited them at the hotel many times.
Mr. Cheshire has a walnut press which he made sixty-seven years ago. He bought the tree from a negro, cut it, hauled it to a mill and made the press, taking great pains to finish it well. He has lived through five droughts, 1864, 74, 81, 1901 and 1934. The 1934 drought being the worst he has ever known. Though he has traveled much, he has never voted outside the county.
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