Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Ghostly Gab"


Silas Turnbo was most likely quite a lazy fellow. 150 years ago he traversed Ozark Mountain trails, and old Indian trails, carrying with him a single change of clothes and a journal. The journal would land him a small place in posterity for Silas filled his journals with tales told to him by folks who lived in those Ozark mountains. 
A century and a half before the internet was invented, and before newspapers found their way to the remote mid-western outbacks, the Ozark people were blessed to see Silas coming down the road. In exchange for a meal and a bed for the night, Silas brought the news of what was happening around there and about. And, in bringing the news, he would fill a few pages of his journal with whatever his hosts found worthy of mentioning. After many years of life on the road Silas had filled several journals with a living history of folks in the Ozarks. 
And years after Silas was gone his family retrieved those journals and published them under the title "Turnbo's Tales of The Ozarks". I found old Silas years ago while doing Friend family ancestral searches. Happily, his journal was online and searchable. So, one night, more than a dozen years ago, in Saudi Arabia, the most unlikely of places to be, I found a "searchable" version of Turnbo's Tales and extracted 13 stories about the pioneering Friend family down there in the Ozarks; scraping out a living on their farm and celebrating babies being born and old ones dying, and 4th of July celebrations, and bear and panther hunts, and who fought for the Blue and who fought for the Gray, and all manner of human history in the mid 19th century. 
Like any good story teller, Turnbo would precede his tale with a bit of background. Of the tales about the Friends he would boast of old Captain Charles Friend, friend, neighbor and Continental Army comrade of George Washington, trading his veteran's land grant for a chance to settle in Jefferson's spanking new Louisiana Purchase territory out west. So I learned that old Captain Charles was one of the first pioneers (1807) in the Missouri territory. Already old, Charles brought his wife and a whole passel of sons with him. 
Almost immediately his sons began moving north, up the White River and would settle along its banks at a place they would call Theodosia. And all along that White River some member of the Friend clan would settle and find their names mentioned in other histories, one by a federal cabinet secretary who led an expedition down the river. 
But old Silas's tales were more personal and therefore more endearing to me. I read a tale of my great, great great grandfather being mauled by a buck deer and my ggg grandmother coming to his rescue with an axe. "I never loved her more" said my distant grandfather. Another tale spoke of the tragedy of a distant teenage aunt who would drown in that White River, along with her fiancé, the spring ice breaking up as they tried to walk across, bound for town to pick up the wedding license! From old Silas I puzzled out how my own grandfather acquired the middle name of "Marmaduke", his name honoring a Union General who put up a grand fight at a battle in and around Springfield, Missouri. 
So old Silas may have been lazy, he may have been thinking himself an artful scrounger of meals and a bed back there long ago. He surely could not imagine that his journals would fill hearts with gladness more than a century later; folks who sought our their roots and found them, thanks to old Silas and his Ozark journals.


  1. researching personal history is always interesting. I have Hanging Judges and horse thieves in my family history. William Prescott, the guy who said, "don't shoot until you see the white in their eyes" was also a past relative. I have Revolution in my blood!

  2. Yes, family history is fun, Jerry. I've got cowboys and indians and, no doubt a few horse thieves in my past as well! :)