"Big Momma" Teal

Looking through my old newspaper files I noted in “The Willow Springs News,” dated July 18, 1940, local teacher and historian, Ella Horak was writing a “Pioneer Series,” about our older citizens. Ella is best known for a book she wrote for the 1969 Willow Springs Centennial but was writing local history in the newspapers decades before.
Under the headline, “Has Seen Town Grow from a Lumber Camp,” Horak collected reminiscences from the former Belle K. Pennington, married name Teal. Belle was the daughter of John “Dabner” Pennington. Dabner lived in Howell County before and during the Civil War before fleeing north with his family to Crocker, Pulaski County, Missouri. 
Dabner is remembered in his observation of West Plains in August 1863, as he passed through the abandoned town, stating, 'the only living thing he saw alive was a cat. The doors of the tenantless houses swung idly to and fro; the curtainless sashes rattled in the breeze and tall weeds filled the streets. Even the birds had left.”
The family remained in Pulaski County, Missouri, for another twenty years before returning to Howell County.
Ella tells the story of their return and the rapid development of Willow Springs after the arrival of the railroad. She wrote, “Mrs. Belle Teal is one of the early settlers of Willow Springs. She has witnessed the growth of the one-time lumber camp as it developed and expanded into the thriving industrious little city of the present Willow Springs.” (1940)
“Mrs. Teal was born at Crocker, Missouri, on April 17, 1871. March 15, 1884, she came to Willow Springs and has resided here since that time, a period of 56 years. She is the second member in a family of five children who shared the hardships of pioneer days in Willow Springs and are all living to tell the story, and who were faithful to a mother who carefully reared her family and endured many hardships.”
“Mr. and Mrs. John Pennington came to Willow Springs from Pulaski County in March 1884, and in June the father deserted his family and went to north Missouri. Mother Pennington at the time lived in a little cabin on the hill south of town. Being left alone with her children she bought, in 1887, a two-room shack located on the lot where now stands the cozy home of J.O. Brown, and it was here she reared her family and paid for her home by taking in washings and doing any other work that she could do. She was proud of her children and well she might have been.”
“Mrs. Teal was eleven years old when her father went away and her older brother was thirteen. The children began working at an early age. Her little brother Frank was only about seven years old when he began the tiresome task as a water carrier for the South Missouri Land Company.”
“When we came to Willow Springs the hills were dotted with cabins and tents just anywhere a place could be found to pitch a tent in the timber and bushes,” said Mrs. Teal. The first residence in town was the Drew home now the Chapin apartments, and this house from external appearances is just the same as it was when built.”
“The only means of water supply nearer than Noblett Creek was the public well drilled by the Southern Missouri Land Company. The well was located in the center of the intersection of Center and Second Streets and if the pavement is ever removed the old well would again be open. It has been stated by some of the old settlers that the water from this well was better than the present city water. Mrs. Teal related how everybody carried water from the well and a long line of carriers could be seen at any time waiting their turn to pump by hand a bucket of water.”
“Mother would let us children sleep until eleven o’clock and then get us up to carry water to do the washing the next day. We carried water to fill a fifty-gallon barrel and at that time of night, there would be twenty-five or thirty people waiting turns to get water. We did five or six washings and Mother would make five or six dollars out of that barrel of water. Some people think that they have a hard time today, but I tell them that they do not know anything about a hard time.”
“Mother worked hard, reared us, children. She never had a boy locked up and never had one to come home drunk.”
"Mrs. Teal attended the old Star School. 'My school days were short, I had to work.' From 1884 to 1890, as described by Mrs. Teal, the downtown of Willow Springs was on First Street or Front Street. A general store operated by Lucas, Kennedy, and (James) Ferguson was located on the corner where the old livery barn now stands. Next in line was a small hardware (store) by Zellwager. Next door to the hardware was a saloon operated by Al Beshears. The Duke Hotel was conveniently located next to the saloon. In 1887 a man by the name of Wilkenson added another general store to the line of business houses. In the same year, George Roberts established the Commercial Hotel on the corner lot where the bandstand is not located. The hotel was destroyed by fire about the year 1900."
"In 1887 on the corner across Center Street (along Front Street) the South Missouri Land Company established a big general store. A two-story frame building was erected and the second floor was used as office rooms for the company. In later years the building was remodeled and the Beshear Hotel was established. In 1913 the building was wrecked and the Horton Hotel was completed. Just beyond the company store was the Current River Hotel. A large sample room came next in line, and just beyond this room was the Nelson Saloon."
"The village was a busy place at the time. A large planing mill was located near the present home of Mrs.Teal and the whole valley across the tracks was covered with stacks of lumber. A picture vivid in the minds of the old settlers, and a scene of interest we can scarcely visualize."
"It was in this busy lumber camp that Belle Pennington grew to womanhood. She was married to James Edward Owen in 1890. Her three infant children are buried in the Methodist Cemetery located near the highway (before Willow Springs was bypassed) west of town. This cemetery marks the spot where the first Methodist Church was located." (I believe this cemetery is the Ferguson-Hogan Cemetery across from the YMCA)
"Mr. Owen died in 1911 and Mrs. Owen adopted a little girl who is now Mrs. Genevieve Copeland. Mr. Teal had four little children and Mrs. Teal cared for them until they were all married and in homes of their own. Guy, Buford, and Rosco of Nebraska and Mrs. Alma Dawson, a telephone operator in Willow Springs."
"The Teal children are grandchildren of Mrs. & Mrs. J.W. Harris who owned the land donated for the founding of Willow Springs. Mrs. Teal has also mothered Mrs. Dawson's two boys, Johnny Cecil and Carnie Frank Stone, children by a former marriage. Mr. Stone died six weeks before Carnie Frank was born. (Carnie Frank would grow up in Willow Springs and become an officer in the Missouri State Highway Patrol) The young mother with her little babies came home to Mrs. Teal and lived with her for twelve years. The boys affectionately address Mrs. Teal as 'Big Momma.'"
"Not many months ago Johnny Cecil went to Big Momma and said, "I want something." Mrs. Teal asked him what he wanted. 'I'm afraid to ask,' he timidly replied. His mother assured him that she would get what he wanted if he would ask her. Then he said, 'I want a Bible, and I want you to do the writing in your own hand, so that I can have it to see when you are gone, Big Momma.' Johnny has the Bible."
"Mrs. Teal now has another grandbaby in her home. We believe the grandbaby is just as fond of grandmother as she is of her mother, Mrs. Copeland. Mr. Teal died in 1927 from the effects of an accident with a wood saw. He was hurt on February 17, 1926, and passed away on March 4, 1927. He was a constant care those thirteen months, day and night Mrs. Teal cared for him during his insane condition."
"Mrs. Teal is a member of the Eastern Star and of the Rebekah Lodge, She has been a member of the Christian Church for thirty-two years. She is a conscientious voter. She is a Democrat, but votes for the candidate she believes to be the best man for the office. She even cast a vote for Dewey Short after he promised to do all he could to reinitiate a Civil War pension to one of her old friends in Willow Springs. Short was elected, the pension was reinstated, and here go honors to Mrs. Teal."
"Mrs. Teal has lost two homes by fire. The first in 1930 and the second in 1933. She removed to her present home in 1934. 'I have lived a busy life. I have done lots of nursing and get many calls yet. I have always helped those who need help, cared for the sick, and never turned a beggar from my door. I gave him something to eat if I had to cook it.'"
Belle was sixty-nine when interviewed by Ella. She lived another fifteen years in Willow Springs, dying at the age of eighty-four in 1955. She is buried in the Willow Springs City Cemetery.
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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