Howell County Bear Hunter William Garrison, Part Two
Fri, 12/02/2022 - 1:49pm admin
This issue continues the saga of William "Pug" Garrison, an early pioneer of Howell County. Garrison came to the Hutton Valley-Willow Springs area as a long hunter, trapper, and squatter in the summer of 1852 and lived here for nearly a decade hunting and subsistence farming before the Civil War ended his idyllic way of life.
Willow Springs barber John Frommel's account about Garrison, written in 1987, continued, "In the 1860s, Pug heard there was a war going on, but he had no interest in either side and figured it was something a long ways off. He didn't worry about it until, in 1863, he heard that they were paying a good big cash bonus to anyone who would join. He went to Rolla. He thought that would be a good chance to get some cash, of which he had none, and that would give him enough money to get married. So, he went - walked all the way to Rolla and joined."
"They immediately cabbaged onto him because they saw he was a woodsman. They (the Union Army) sent him into Kentucky through St. Louis by train to join up with forces there, and he was a scout then. He ranged pretty far, and they had kind of a truce - they wouldn't shoot at each other. They just avoided each other and went about their business - until, in 1864, they saw another scouting party a long ways off but didn't pay any attention to it. Apparently, one of the men was trigger-happy, and even though the distance was too far, he fired off one shot and hit Pug in the butt. The spent bullet went in, didn't break any bones, and went deep enough they couldn't get it out easily. So, that laid him up to where they mustered him out, and he went down into Tennessee where his people were, and he had taken the money down there for them to save. He went down there until 1866 and found a woman who was willing to go on further into the pine, into the backwoods with him, and they married. One of his sisters came along with her husband, and they brought a cow and some chickens to get started on."
"Now, when he came back, he found out that the bushwhackers had burned down West Plains while he was gone, and someone had burnt his lean-to. I think a man had come in the year before (1867) - Harris - had come in and bought the land where he was and built a trading post close to where his lean-to had been. So, he went further back into town and built a little better log cabin for all of them. They had just room for a little garden. In the meantime, Harris had ideas for his part of the land. He was glad that there was a trading post close, and. of course, Harris was glad that someone would live close to him."
Frommel refers to James Ward Harris, who came to northern Howell County after the war. He traded his land near Birch Prairie (Birch Tree) to Ezekiel Jones for the land that eventually became Willow Springs. The Harris home and store were where the MFA Farmer's Exchange feed store is today. Other accounts put Pug Garrison's dugout lean-to further south, down the Eleven Point River Valley toward Hutton Valley. Pug dug through the remains of his burned lean-to but could only salvage some of the pots in which he had kept his seed. He bought a ten-dollar, three-cornered lot from Harris on Harris Street and built a small log cabin on a stone foundation with a dirt floor. There Garrison and his sister and brother-in-law lived.
"When the homestead law was passed, a few settlers started staggering in to settle the better land. So, the neighbors got a bit thicker, and things went along that way for a while. In 1878, a surveying party for the railroad came through buying right-of-way. Pug didn't like such close neighbors, but there wasn't anything he could do about it - it was too late. There was no place else to go, so he learned to put up with them."
Here John Frommel leaves his main subject, Pug Garrison, and records a brief history of Willow Springs and Howell County. Frommel was born in 1915, so much of this history was before his time and perhaps conveyed to him by Garrison or other customers in his barbershop. He died three years after writing this account at the age of seventy-five. I've found it all to be accurate, and I'm grateful for the window into our history he provides. Frommel wrote in 1987, "I feel that it's important that some of the early history be recorded before its forgotten. I feel that I'm probably the only one who knows, or at least the one who knows the most about the history of the town. He continues:
"In 1880, the survey crews for the railroad came through, surveying for the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railway. They laid out the railroad and a small lake (The Willow Springs Reservoir) about a mile from town to furnish water for the locomotives. And they came on down into town and laid out a place for a coal chute for fuel. By then, Harris had enough vision to realize that a town just had to be built there. He had sold the railroad right-of-way for enough to pay for his land and enough left over, so he had a town surveyed from the railroad tracks as far as High Street."
"Construction on the main business buildings started almost immediately. They had hand-fired bricks made across the tracks and fired with the tailings from the sawmills. It didn't cost anything except for the hauling. They were good brick, and the buildings still survive in good shape (1987)."
"In 1886, the Current River Line had been completed, and great train loads of lumber started rolling out. There were only two grades at the time, number one and cull, which were cut into two by four by sixes for framing. Some of the lumber barons settled at Willow. One of them, named Brownley, built two identical fine houses: One at Fifth and Center and then the other side of what is now (1987) a football field (Palenski Field, Willow Springs.) The one house in town was for wintertime and the one out there was for summertime. The outer property was planted in big orchards and had a big truck farm for their eating."
"In the 1920s, they were still reaping the benefits of the loggers. A man from Texas came through buying the contents of the old mill ponds, which he bought from private ownership. He was offering forty to fifty dollars for the contents of the ponds. Well, the crafty Ozarkers figured he wanted the fish. They knew they could get the fish out before he could get back. But it wasn't the fish he was after. When he came, he brought a whole bunch of draglines so he could do the work simultaneously so they wouldn't steal it. They fished out great logs, ten feet in diameter, thirty feet long, that he could sell for veneer. About two inches of the pine had turned green, but the rest of it was good solid material that they shipped out east. In the meantime, the Ozarkers had got all the fish out they could with open line and dynamited the ponds, which loosened the logs and made his job easier for him."
"In the early 1900s, a man brought in an ice plant and an electric generator and started to make ice for the town. He had surplus electricity in the evening, so he strung wire and started selling electricity. You could buy electricity from dark until nine o'clock. The city also put up some street lights that were one hundred-watt bulbs. All that over three or four blocks, and they had an old lamplighter that went around and flipped the switches with a long pole."
"One July day in the 1920s, the ice plant caught fire. There was a Model-T Ford sitting out front with a full tank of gasoline, and when the fire reached that, it blew the Model-T sky-high. It set off an even worse blaze and set the roof afire and burned it very thoroughly. The only thing that survived was the old diesel. It ruined the generator, so the town was without electricity for a year."
"After they had cut the easy to get to pine, they started rafting down the Current River. They tied great strings of logs together and formed rafts and forever changed the shoreline and the character of the Current. The old loggers were in lots of trouble lots of times - a very dangerous business. The logs would get jammed up, and they'd have to run out on them and set dynamite to jar them loose to get them rolling again."
"They had been cutting enough oak for ties for the railroads and already knew all about working the oak. There was still a lot of oak down here, so by the time the Second World War started, they started cutting the oak to make crates, pallets, and all kinds of things. The oak was too heavy to raft out, so it had to wait until they brought in smaller mills to where the oak stood. But, there was lots of oak and a lot of demand for ties, so that was big business for a long time, including right up through World War Two. World War One saw the end of the big oaks."
"From that time on, they started cutting the smaller oaks. Sometimes they could only hack one tie out of a tree, but they cut in anyway. The men who loaded the ties were a special breed; they even looked different. Their right shoulder was very high, very big, and strong, and they walked funny. Two of them lifted the tie onto the man's shoulder, and he run a little trot up a springy plank and threw the log on a pile in the box car."
In old age, Pug's grandson took him to Flagstaff, Arizona. He lived there for four years, died after suffering a sudden heart attack, and was buried there. John Frommel wrote of Pug upon hearing of his death, "Pug had no electricity, any other gadgets, or any desire to have any of them. He was self-sufficient like he was. He disregarded all the moves made downtown because he said it was none of his business and let the world go by."