IN "GRAND RIVER COUNTRY"
Narrator: Dr. Libby R. Woolsey of Hamilton
The Woolsey Family At the End of the H. & St. Joseph R.R.
Early Whiskey-Making The Irish Settlers at Breckendridge
The Woolsey family came very early into what is now Caldwell County. Some of them were here in 1835 before the county was organized. Some left and came back later on. Cardinal Woolsey, the father of Dr. Libby Reynolds Woolsey, was a native of Tennessee (born 1818) of Scotch Irish lineage. He settled in Breckenridge, Missouri before Mormon days. His son, Dr. Napoleon Bonaparte Woolsey, was born there in 1849 and Dr. Libby R., the youngest son, was born there in 1859. Dr. Halstead of Breckenridge, who lived to be over one hundred years old, was present at his birth. Being a doctor runs in the Woolsey family for centuries.
Dr. L.R. Woolsey was born on the old Woolsey farm two miles east of Breckenridge in a house that was part log cabin and part tent. That farm is now owned by Dr. C.B. Woolsey of Braymer.
His grandfather, Gilbert Woolsey, put up a still-house one mile north of the above farm in the early days, but when Berry Diddle made his still-house near Henkins bridge, the two men fell out and Woolsey moved his still into fresh territory near Hamburg, Iowa, where he and his wife are buried. Dr. L.R.'s parents are buried in the old Gant cemetery near Breckenridge.
Whisky sold cheap then, twenty-five cents a gallon, for good pure stuff. Often the distillers would sell it in this way. They would hear of a harvesting or a barn raising or the like. They then would fill a twenty gallon barrel with whiskey, put it on an axle (which might be a round of a tree, for a fellow was might lucky those days if he had a spoke wheel), put runners under this, hitched horses to the contraption; and he himself sitting in the barrel, drove away to sell the whiskey. When the twenty gallons were gone, he went after more.
He lived near the Jerome Terrill place, went to that school, and played with the little Terrill niggers, for the Terrills were slaveholders. The Terrills, who were a very proud family, thought it was outlandish for a white boy to play with niggers, but it did not hurt a Woolsey for they too held their heads high then.
He recalls hearing about the first store at Breckenridge. Sam Rial and Billy (Daddy) Houghton put up a three room log cabin store where they sold everything, even whiskey. That was when Breckenridge was at the end of the railroad. The Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad started from Hannibal and worked west; and there was a pause in the work for some weeks at Breckenridge late in 1858, when Breckenridge was the western terminus of the line. This was a little before Dr. Libby R. Woolsey was born and his name was given to him because Libby was the name of the first conductor who brought a train there. Afterwards this Rial store was sold to Sidney McWilliams.
He recalls that his father, Cardinal, bought this land near Breckenridge from the government at 12 1/2 cents an acre and sold it to old man Greenwood for 25 cents an acre and thought he was putting over a smart deal. The lumber for his permanent home was hauled by oxen from Brunswick and that old house is still standing and in good shape.
In the days before Breckenridge started, all that country was known as the Grand River country and the Post office was called Grand River Post office which passed away with the birth of Breckenridge. The Grand River country attracted people from far and wide in this U.S. and even Ireland. He spoke of several Irish families who came to that district. John Scanlon came over and built a big stone house and bossed the railroad section work for forty-five years. Anthony White was another, and Mr. Helm another Irishman. Some were Catholics. Some came here, returned to Ireland and then came back here, realizing that the Grand River country could not be beat.
Interviewed August 1934.
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